In the battle for viewers in the Anchorage television news market, KTVA-Channel 11 gained a small amount of ground with some of its newscasts year-over-year in November but still lags behind KTUU-Channel 2.
The Anchorage NBC affiliate dominated viewership in the Anchorage TV market last month, according to ratings from Nielsen, which measures TV audiences.
But in a small market like Anchorage, where a tiny number of households keep handwritten diaries about their TV watching habits to determine the Nielsen ratings, debate continues over whether those numbers accurately reflect viewership.
Many of KTUU's ratings for morning news declined but many of its early evening newscast ratings increased. Overall, the station had the highest rating or share of viewership in every category across morning, evening and late night newscasts when compared to other stations.
Share is the percentage of TV households with sets turned on that are watching a specific program.
KTUU captured 44 percent of the share of TV viewership during its 6 a.m. weekday newscast in November 2015 (down from 51 percent in November 2014), for example. KTVA, the CBS affiliate, had just 6 percent of the share, though that was up from less than 1 percent in 2014.
KTUU's viewership share grew during weekdays from 5 to 5:30 p.m., from 38 percent last year to 42 percent, but KTVA also grew in this segment, from 6 percent last year to 9 percent.
Year-over-year Nielsen ratings can fluctuate based on many factors. Nielsen is intended more as a snapshot of how a network is faring in a given month.
"The numbers show consistency, and while they ebb and flow on factors like how much news is happening -- election years are higher than non-election years -- and even weather, they consistently show Channel 2 News is the television news of choice for Alaskans," said KTUU general manager Andy MacLeod in an email.
The ratings show that the plans of Anchorage telecommunications company GCI to build up KTVA are slow-going.
GCI purchased KTVA in November 2013 for about $6.9 million. Attorneys for two companies owned by GCI said in March 2013 that GCI would "invest heavily in local programming, more than doubling KTVA's news offerings, hiring dozens of full-time news employees, and launching Alaska's first high-definition local news," according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.
GCI also planned to expand news content from around the state and establish a state-of-the-art facility in Anchorage for a new newsroom and studios -- an investment of about $17 million, according to that FCC filing.
"KTVA has been working really hard, putting a lot of time and energy into their product, so when you look at these numbers … it's a very slow process," said Dianna Rowedder, media director at the Anchorage-based advertising agency Walsh Sheppard. She added that it could simply take much more time before KTVA sees the gains it hopes for.
But these ratings aren't necessarily the perfect indicator of the Anchorage market.
Advertising agencies and TV stations alike look to Nielsen ratings with some skepticism. In recent years, these measurements have been refuted as unreliable. In 2014, The New York Times wrote that Nielsen had reported inaccurate ratings for months.
The magazine Advertising Age also reported a year ago that Nielsen has struggled to keep up as the ways people watch TV change, with more viewers using smartphones and tablets.
That skepticism is only heightened in smaller markets such as Anchorage. Here, the ratings rely on the antiquated "diary method," which is pretty much what it sounds like: A small number of people in the Anchorage market area -- from Talkeetna to Homer -- keep diaries of what they watch each week.
In November, Rowedder said, there were 352 diaries in the Anchorage market.
"There's still a wide gap between the two stations," said Gary Donovan, general manager of KTVA, "but I don't think anybody sees (the ratings) as being particularly accurate. … There's no doubt that our station is growing, and growing quite dramatically."
Despite their perceived shortcomings, Nielsen ratings are still what ad agencies use to determine reach in the Anchorage market.
"Nielsen is the best we've got, but you have to take it with a grain of salt," said Rowedder. "It's a guideline; it's not everything."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing