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California TV Station Hopes To Blaze Trail To Early Prime Time

November 27, 1991

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ An NBC affiliate that won network permission to air prime-time shows an hour earlier says the experiment is succeeding and could affect television viewing on both coasts.

″We firmly believe that if ratings continue the way they are . .. the test will be deemed a success and other stations will want to adopt the same schedule,″ said Jan Young, a spokeswoman for Sacramento’s KCRA.

The station’s ratings are up from the outset, when they plunged to a low of 10 the first week of October. For the first three weeks of November, its ratings averaged 12.4. A ratings point is the percentage of all TV households in the market.

NBC says it’s too early to predict the outcome, but acknowledged interest in a permanent prime-time shift by affiliates in the West and to a lesser extent, in the East.

″We are open minded to the experiment ... but I don’t want to get into what-ifs,″ said NBC spokeswoman Betty Hudson.

Network officials said they are more interested in viewer demographics than ratings, and they are not released until December. Advertising rates are based more on audience type than size.

A permanent prime-time shift in either time zone would be a bold move for a network, leaving early shows designed to compete with those of other networks going against syndicated programming. There has been no solid indication other networks would shift with NBC.

Rick Blangiardi, general manager at Seattle’s KING-TV, one of a few West Coast stations that would like to go early prime time, said he doesn’t believe NBC will make the change.

″I don’t see a complex decision like this being made in this mood″ of sluggish economic times and tough competition, Blangiardi said.

The three-hour block of evening prime-time programs fed by networks has traditionally begun at 8 p.m. in Eastern and Pacific time zones and 7 p.m. in the Central and Mountain zones.

The custom had origins in early-to-bed lifestyles of some regions and one- time technological limits.

KCRA-TV won permission from the Federal Communications Commission to experiment with a 7 p.m. prime time start by citing a change of West Coast lifestyles. The station is in the third month of the eight-month test.

Proponents argue more commuters are driving further and people are working a longer day - meaning viewer’s habits are changing.

″All the research that’s been done has shown the audience is, by a large margin, in favor of an earlier prime time,″ said Brian Fiori, research director at San Francisco’s KRON, one of the West Coast stations that want early prime time. ″Normally, when you ask people to make a major change in their lives, you would expect them to say no. But the overwhelming answer is yes, they want to go to bed earlier and are having a hard time watching their favorite shows.″

Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR failed to win favorable ratings in a recent shift to early prime time. But observers say the test results were inconclusive because Indiana is divided into different time zones.

Hudson said NBC has had little call from East Coast markets for a switch to an earlier schedule, but ″it’s fair to say individual stations in the East are interested in hearing how it goes with KCRA.″

KCRA logged a 19 share the first three weeks of November. The number of sets tuned to the station dropped slightly after the switch began Sept. 16, dropping to a low of a 17 share the first week of October. A share is the percentage of sets in use that are tuned to a station.

KCRA broadcasts to more than 1 million households in much of northern and central California. The market is ranked 19th nationally.

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