A series of ads by Tribune-owned KTLA-TV in Los Angeles that have been running in the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times make debatable claims that could conceivably plunge the newspaper into a new controversy, just as memories have begun to fade about the 1999 Staples Center scandal.
KTLA has been running ads in the Times with such claims as “The #1 local morning news … again and again and again!” “Ten years as L.A.’s number one choice!” and “Number one from 10 to 11pm!”
However, rival stations claim the ads are misleading at best and could be untrue at worst, if one examines ratings information from Nielsen Media Research, the standard of measurement generally used in the TV industry.
Los Angeles Times spokesman David Garcia said the newspaper had not received any complaints about the ads and therefore would not look into the matter. He said the same standards apply to anyone who buys an ad.
“We reserve the right to delete [objectionable] words or phrases,” Mr. Garcia said. “We have the right to refuse ads based on issues of taste and offensiveness. We do not, however, write ads or control their content.”
It is unclear what kind of arrangement KTLA has with the paper. The ad that ran last Thursday was 4 inches by 5 inches and would normally cost $6,950. KTLA officials declined to say whether the ad was free.
One rival L.A. TV news executive, upset about the KTLA ads, suggested there might be a trade agreement between the paper and the station. Another rival L.A. station executive said he thinks there may have been a trade of space for airtime or just space for free.
KTLA General Manager John Reardon-who recently added the title of West Coast Regional vice president, Tribune Television, to his duties-wouldn’t say what the arrangement is with the L.A. Times but commented cryptically, “It shows the wonderful strength of the L.A. Times, and we do have synergy. It’s powerful to see what this synergy can do. It’s a great compliment that these ads are working.”
The Times’ Mr. Garcia also declined to give details about the Times/KTLA business relationship.
In addition to whatever ad deal the paper might have with the station, synergy means that KTLA regularly promotes the newspaper’s Web site, and Times reporters have appeared on KTLA’s newscasts.
The current series of ads, which began running earlier this month, mark the first time the station has run ads in the L.A. Times since longtime KTLA owner Tribune bought the paper last year, Mr. Reardon said.
Here are the specifics of the KTLA ad campaign in the L.A. Times:
On March 8, KTLA ran an ad picturing the morning news team with the following copy: “The #1 local morning news … again and again and again.” Below the photo were the words “Weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. KTLA 5 Morning News.”
On March 11, KTLA ran another ad that said, “Ten years as L.A.’s number one choice!” Under that copy was a photo of the morning news crew and below that were the words “KTLA5 morning news.” Under that was a photo of the evening anchors. This ad ran again March 18.
Most recently, last Thursday, KTLA ran an ad with the copy: “`The best one hour evening newscast in L.A.’-Radio and TV News Association of Southern California.” Below that was a picture of news anchors Hal Fishman and Lynette Romero. Under that was the text “Number one from 10 to 11pm! KTLA5 news@ten.”
Critics say the first two ads are misleading particularly because Fox-owned KTTV-the only other L.A. station to have local morning news from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.-came in first in household ratings in the November sweeps, according to Nielsen Media Research numbers. It was the first time KTTV’s early morning news had beaten KTLA’s competing newscast.
Furthermore, the March 8 KTLA ad had both morning anchor teams from its 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. newscasts pictured, and the copy said “Weekdays-5:30- 9 a.m.”
But during the February sweeps, Nielsen household ratings had the newscast on NBC’s owned and operated L.A. station, KNBC-TV, winning the 5:30 a.m. time period with its 24th consecutive major sweeps win, while its 6 a.m. newscast came in No. 1 with its 21st major consecutive sweeps win.
Also in February, KNBC won the 7 a.m.-to-9 a.m. time slot in the market with the “Today” show.
In response, Mr. Reardon said KTLA’s 7 a.m. morning news has been on the air since July 1991, and out of the 39 major sweeps, “We were No. 1 38 times.”
“We are No. 1 locally in terms of morning news,” Mr. Reardon said. “Thirty-eight out of 39 times is `again and again and again.’ [The March 8 ad] didn’t say `all the time.’ We’re not misleading anyone. It is the truth.”
Critics of the ads also assailed last Thursday’s ad in the L.A. Times, which claimed that KTLA was “No. 1 from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.” In fact, according to Nielsen, in February KTTV won in household ratings for the 10 p.m. news race, not KTLA.
Mr. Reardon claimed that ad was correct because KTLA’s 10 p.m. news is “consistent,” and “we don’t stunt.” He said KTTV took out half its 10 p.m. newscast on Fridays during the February sweeps in an effort to boost ratings. From 10:30 to 11 p.m. on those Fridays, KTTV ran half-hour news specials.
KTTV General Manager Dave Boylan said the half-hour specials on issues such as black history, teen-age drinking and at-risk teens in fact brought the numbers down if one looked at the entire 10 o’clock hour. In February, with a half-hour newscast followed by the half-hour specials, KTTV’s Monday-Sunday 10 p.m. one-hour average was a 4.3 rating and a 7 share, while KTLA got a 4.1/7. If the half-hour specials are taken out, KTTV would have scored higher with a 4.5/7.
“These specials are very strong journalistically-they serve the public,” said KTTV General Manager David Boylan. “Perhaps KTLA should commit similar resources to doing the same quality and level of journalism. Doing a half-hour special is open to all stations in the market.
“It must bother them to no longer be No. 1, so they continue to put out these claims that are unsubstantiated,” Mr. Boylan said. “They don’t put Nielsen sourcing [on their ads], it must bother them so much.”
Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said, “We saw [last Thursday’s] ad by chance, and we were not asked to approve the ad. They did not source Nielsen or source Nielsen data, so we don’t have any real beef with it. They could be No. 1 in homes on Third Avenue.”
Tribune did, however, run afoul of Nielsen rules just this past December with a stunt pulled by its San Diego station, KSWB-TV. That station made history when it became the first to be de-listed by Nielsen for an entire sweeps book. In November, KSWB violated Nielsen rules by sending promotional tapes to 75,000 homes in the area asking Nielsen homes to write “KSWB” in their diaries.
Allen Banks, North American media director for advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, said the KTLA ads could mislead the public.
“Puffery gets people in trouble,” Mr. Banks said. “There’s too much that goes on that can be misleading, and certainly it could have been better if they indicated what the source of their claim was.”
Sources in the market suggest that KTLA may have intended to strike back at KTTV because the latter station conducted a media blitz when it won the 7 a.m. news war for the first time in November.
As part of the blitz, KTTV ran a humorous on-air promotional campaign in December with anchor Steve Edwards saying, “We at `Good Day L.A.’ oppose bragging rights by TV stations,” while a graphic underneath him said, “He’s lying.” Weathercaster Jillian Barberie then said, “We’re simply proud to serve you and pay no attention to petty things like ratings,” and a graphic underneath stated jokingly, “She’s also lying.” Later Mr. Edwards said, “Don’t hate us because w e’re No. 1.” Ms. Barberie added, “We rock!”
Mr. Banks said KTTV’s on-air promos were “very appropriate,” because at the bottom of the screen, KTTV specifically attributed the No. 1 claim to Nielsen Media Research data.