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The Nielsens for Christmas 

Yule gifts and lumps of coal

The holiday season doesn't always start off so jolly for local TV stations. That's when the final November Nielsens hit their desks and they see either a gift to ease them into better ad sales for 2005, or a lump of coal and a retooling for the next ratings period.

If that's not enough holiday stress, Charlotte is a metered market, meaning that the people who run the TV stations and their news departments (the main cash heifer on the farm) get a lovely little printout every morning with the ratings from the night before, lined up neatly alongside their competitors' numbers. It's called getting your list and checking it twice. And then checking it again and again to be sure you're not dreaming. Needed paychecks can do that kind of thing to you.

A look at my own lovely little printout of the local numbers shows some interesting things, and some retooling to come in a market that changes little, thanks to the consistency at WSOC-TV.

Channel 9 continues to win newscasts in the morning, early evening, 10pm, and 11pm. The interesting thing at 11pm is that despite ABC's Number 2 finish in primetime each night, Channel 9 manages to actually increase its audience at 11pm, while Channel 3 and 36 drop. In fact, out of the 55 metered markets around the country, WSOC is one of the few ABC affiliates that won its late newscast this November.

Despite revamping early and late shows and adding a strong new anchor to the mix in the person of Maureen O'Boyle, WBTV's anchor roulette has clearly hurt them in early mornings, noon, and early shows, where they're down from 2003. Expect more retooling at Channel 3, as they hope more viewers tune in to see O'Boyle. In addition, Dan Rather's departure won't be unwelcome if his successor can bail water from the sinking CBS News ship. In Charlotte, Rather sank from 2nd place into a virtual tie with Tom Brokaw.

At 10pm, Mark Mathis' departure is a possible factor in WCCB's slide to last place from a year ago. And at third-place WCNC, a bright spot is their now-close race for second with WBTV between 6 and 7am.

People who work in retail can probably relate to all this, especially when they look at yesterday's sale figures the next morning. It's not always what you're selling, but how many people are buying it.

Stay tuned.

Shannon Reichley is the producer of Lending a Hand: Building More than Houses, airing December 26 on the DIY cable network. Email at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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