Audience Retention

One of the most striking findings this year had to do with audience retention. By finding ways to hold onto or build upon "lead-in audience," stations have managed to justify ad rate increases even as audiences have decreased.

Better journalism is the surest way not only to hold the audience you inherit but to improve on it.

In eight cities, we measured how much lead-in audience was retained throughout the whole newscast and correlated that to quality scores and ratings.

Once again, across 28 stations, only one with an "A" grade was failing to add to its lead-in audience.

In Atlanta, WXIA earned an "A" for quality and beat its lead in by 33%. In Denver, KUSA put on the best broadcast in town and beat its lead-in by an average of 21%. In Phoenix, KTVK had the best 6 p.m. newscast in the market, the best ratings and more viewers than the show that preceded it.

And again, only two stations with a "C" or lower were succeeding in adding to their lead-in.

We also measured this audience retention over time. Again, we found "A" stations had the best long-term record of building on their lead-in audience.

In short, stations can try to win audience two ways. By hitchhiking on the popularity of the show that came before, which tends to put a ceiling on the potential viewership. Or by trying to build their own intrinsic audience, which is loyal regardless of what shows the networks or others may provide.

The data show clearly that quality is the way to build loyalty.

And it's not enough to hold onto people for the first 15 minutes, as stations often promise advertisers they'll do. The study measured how well a station holds its audience through an entire newscast. TV news reasearchers agree. Norman Hecht of Norman Hecht Research says retaining audience is "crucially important."

Losing people later in the broadcast suggests viewers are losing interest, or maybe even becoming irritated by teases and promos. Stations that offer people value all the way through are the most likely to have those viewers come back, researchers said. "It's important to retain people to the end," said Harry Kovsky of Kovsky & Miller Research, a television research firm.