WSEE, and its sister station, WICU, branded together as Erie News Now, took the top two spots in the news ratings for the 11 p.m. news. Scott MacDowell, Erie News Now’s news director, says it’s been more than 10 years since either station has been the top-rated news station at that time.
Local TV news ratings are still the barometer of success in broadcasting.
Higher ratings go directly to improving the bottom line. The more eyeballs a local TV station has watching its newscasts, the more the station can charge advertisers for their commercials.
Plus, if you’re the top TV station in terms of broadcast ratings, usually, all your other platforms seem to benefit — your website, social media, your YouTube channel, etc.
“In an economic climate where every number counts, a ratings win is a viewer benefit, a benefit for our newsroom and a big benefit for our commercial sponsors,” says Scott MacDowell, Erie News Now’s news director. “More eyes on us means more revenue into our station. Local news is still the big driver for revenue.”
According to MacDowell, in July, WSEE, Lilly Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate in Erie, and its sister station, WICU, the NBC affiliate — branded together as Erie News Now — were the top-rated stations at 11 p.m. in adults 25-54.
WICU was No. 1, while WSEE was No. 2. The news is simulcast on both stations.
MacDowell, who’s been the news director at Erie News Now for five years, says it’s been more than 10 years since either station has been the top-rated news station at 11 o’clock, and then only briefly.
WICU was also top-rated at 6 a.m. and noon.
Andy Howe, the creative services director for Erie News Now, thinks a campaign of unscripted promos done interview style has really connected the 11 p.m. talent with the audience.
“Severe weather promos have been a huge boost as well,” Howe says.
Promotionally, the stations’ “Make the Switch” campaign also played a part in the ratings performance in July, MacDowell says.
And so did Facebook.
“We use social media as a huge advertising tool as well,” MacDowell says. “We are a solid No. 1 on our social media platforms here and we have really flipped the script on in trying to turn people back to TV off of social media. It’s a lot of Facebook Lives.”
MacDowell says the stations use Facebook to tease the stories they’re working on. “If you want to see more on this, check us out at 4, 5, 5:30, 6, all the way across the day,” he says.
In July, MacDowell attributes the stations’ success to being like “a football team with blocking and tackling and making sure you have the basics down.”
The basics start with breaking news, the big stories of the day, MacDowell says. “We have positioned ourselves here to be the breaking news station.”
And throughout the summer, it was the perfect storm of big stories in the Erie area.
“We had an escapee from a prison in our area that went on for almost two weeks” he says.
(Coincidently, another escaped prisoner in Pennsylvania, a convicted murderer facing life without parole, was on the lam for a couple weeks outside Philadelphia, before being captured last week. The area he was in is the same county where I live. Both stories became national news.)
MacDowell says other important breaking news stories during the summer were the deaths of two first responders, a policemen and fireman, both killed in the line of duty.
“And then we had a wild summer of weather,” MacDowell says.
He says the toughest part to the ratings success in July is holding onto it. “It’s a whole strategy that we are deploying to make sure that now that we have got it, we are going to keep a chokehold on it because you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal for a minute.”
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