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Television News Ratings Tips for Finding More Viewers


A man with a newspaper in his lap holding a TV remote control

With the correct strategy, you can change behavior and get more viewers to click to watch your TV newscast.

Photo © John Foxx / Getty Images
Television news ratings are the determining factor in the news anchors you see on a station and which news stories are covered. While everyone wants to boost the ratings, many choose the wrong strategy in attracting more viewers.

Let's say you work in a city with two competing news stations. You're a TV news director for the station that ranks second in the Nielsen ratings, but your goal is to take the number-one spot from your rival. Here's how the viewers in your DMA can be divided, along with the prospects for ratings growth:

Television News Ratings: Viewers Who Watch Your Competitor

This seems like the natural place to look for viewers. Stealing them away from the competition will raise your ratings, while lowering your competitor's numbers.

But there are likely many factors in why your competitor is the top-ranked station. Some of those reasons may be hard for you to change.

Habit is the biggest factor. If the other station has been number one for 30 years, viewers are simply so used to watching that channel that they may not give yours a chance.

One place to test that theory is in your late newscast. If your station is tops in prime time, or at least close, see if you can target news stories and topical news promotion toward keeping that audience.

If you find your numbers still take a nosedive at news time, you may find it's not worth the effort to go after your competitor's viewers. But there are still other groups of people to try to grab.

Television News Ratings: Viewers Who Don't Watch the News

Add up the ratings for your newscasts and those of your competitor. They won't add up to 100% of the market -- which means a sizeable chunk of people simply don't watch the news.

The upside for this crowd is that they haven't been loyal to your rival for decades. The challenge is to find out why they're not watching at all.

It's hard for a news person to understand, but some viewers choose to be ignorant about their community. They don't care to know which new restaurant chain is coming to town, why the mayor and city council are fighting or that layoffs may be looming for the area's biggest industry. It will be hard to convince them to be interested about their city.

But there's another group of potential news viewers. These are people who need to be convinced that watching your newscast is worth their time. They could be military families who'll be stationed in your market for a couple of years, or those with non-traditional work schedules who may not be home to watch the usual 6 p.m. news, but might be willing to see the 6 a.m. news.

Focus group research can help you determine whether it's worth the effort to sell yourself to these people. Market surveys can also tell you what types of content a non-news watcher might want to see.

Television News Ratings: Viewers Who Don't Have a Preference

Just as some fast-food customers don't care if they go to McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's, there are news viewers who'll watch whichever station they happen to flip to first. They may not be loyal, but they are available.

You can target your topical promotion beyond your own airwaves to entice these viewers to watch your station, at least for the night. Working with a radio station partner can allow your news anchor to deliver an afternoon newsbreak promoting your stories as people drive home from work. A special report that took you weeks to produce can be advertised with a newspaper ad.

Your strategy should be like a burger joint plugging its 99-cent menu. You're likely not winning a convert for life, but sometimes you can declare victory by just getting someone to pull into the parking lot at lunchtime.

It's possible image promotion might make the sale that your station is the right choice every night. But it's more likely you'll have to sell yourself over and over topically in order for these people to start a viewing habit around your newscast.

Television News Ratings: Viewers Who Already Watch Your Station

There's a final group of viewers to target to boost your news ratings. Those are the people you already have, who already like your station better than the competition.

If your station is number two in the ratings, it can be easy to dismiss this group as not being large enough to take you to number one. In reality, they're the ones who can send you to ratings victory.

That's because most news viewers only watch a few newscasts each week -- maybe two or three. Your goal is to take these people and convince them to watch four to five times a week.

Promote what's coming up in the next newscast. Have good content that you keep out of the 5 p.m. news, so that you can say these stories are all-new at 6 p.m. That's more than just an ordinary ribbon-cutting. It's a story you've purposely held onto so that you can push 5 p.m. viewers into an upcoming newscast. Make sure your late-news viewers have a reason to start their day with your morning show.

Most companies are built on repeat business. Your job is to persuade your existing customers to come back more frequently than they already do. With all the ways you can grow your ratings, this may be the easiest.

You probably have more than one news competitor in your market, and you may not be at the #2 station, but the #4. Regardless of your situation, analyze the viewing habits of people in your DMA and develop your own custom strategy. Just don't forget those people who already think you're the best.

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