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Jack Zaleski, Published April 06 2013

Zaleski: Insulting ‘old’ viewers not very smart

When February’s Nielsen local television ratings were reported last week, the news director of distant second-place KVLY responded by insulting a huge segment of the local television news audience. Not smart.

WDAY had the best numbers in a decade for its local news broadcasts. KVLY, which has a stable of attractive broadcast personalities, showed gains over November, but WDAY’s stronger gains and domination of the regional market was the real story.

So how did KVLY’s Ike Walker respond? He said: “WDAY traditionally attracts much, much older viewers. Yeah, WDAY, they’re the king of the old people. So when you look at overall household numbers, their numbers tend to be higher.”

Ah, those “much, much older viewers.” Ah, yes, those viewers – tens of thousands of them – KVLY’s news director so flippantly dismisses, even as that viewer cohort hands WDAY the ratings crown. Who needs them?

And who are those “old people” (over 45?) Walker doesn’t value among his viewers? Well, they are established wage-earners, business owners, professionals and entrepreneurs. They often own their own homes. They usually are educated. They enjoy levels of disposable income that allow them to buy stuff – the kinds of things TV advertisers sell, like cars and pickup trucks, furniture, building materials, garden tractors, boats, tools, school supplies, clothes for kids and steaks for the barbecue.

And as important, the older set tends to watch local television news reliably and attentively. That’s a habit young viewers do not have, and trends suggest they – the Twitter generation – will not acquire. Indeed, many of today’s youngsters are living with parents – those “old” WDAY viewers – because the kids can’t afford a place of their own, let alone pay attention to news reports and advertising on KVLY’s aimed-at-kiddies broadcasts.

For the record (as if readers didn’t know), WDAY is owned by Forum Communications, which also owns The Forum. That fact has no bearing on the Nielsen numbers. What can affect the Nielsen ratings, it seems to me, is blithely insulting thousands of potential viewers. Not smart. Maybe KVLY is counting on “old” folks to forget. That would comport nicely with the news director’s dismissive remarks about mature consumers of local television news. My guess is they won’t forget.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.