Originally created 11/15/02

Local television stations know what's at stake during sweeps



Quick. How many sports cliches can you drudge up to describe November sweeps?

It's a must-win situation. It's do-or-die time. You gotta give 110 percent. Leave everything you've got on the field. Or, in this case, in front of the teleprompter.

In the television industry, the sweeps period is the busiest and most important time of year. That certainly rings true locally, where the sports anchors at Augusta's three stations have been logging some serious OT.

During sweeps, stations battle to boost viewership. Advertising rates for the year are established according to the ratings during the given period.

There are four sweeps periods each year - February, May, July and November.

For local sports anchors, it is their time to shine.

Shorter stories turn into longer, in-depth feature packages, such as the profile by WAGT-Channel 26 on South Aiken High School football star Jerome Dunbar, whose mother was killed earlier this season. The Dunbar story was scheduled to air Thursday.

Instead of taking out-of-town highlights off a satellite feed, anchors tend to run down more stories themselves - anything to show viewers they're going the extra mile. That was the case Thursday with local coverage of the South Carolina prep football playoff controversy which affected two local schools: North Augusta and South Aiken.

"We try to treat everything like we're in a rating period, but I think we put more resources into the stories we do during sweeps," said WAGT sports director Chris Kane.

"We sent (WAGT weekend anchor Ben Baker) to Columbia to cover the hearings. We probably would have gone up there anyway, but during sweeps, there's no question. We're definitely going up there to cover something that's important to our viewers."

WJBF-Channel 6 sports director John Hart downplayed the significance of sweeps in terms of how he approaches his job.

"We feel like we put on a good show every day, and we don't look at it as 'this is sweeps, we're going to hit them with this,"' Hart said. "I always felt like people are going to watch us if they like us and our product, or they're going to watch the other station because they like their product. I don't think they're going to watch us to see us go the extra mile for sweeps."

Kane, Hart and WRDW-Channel 12 anchor Paul Davis, truly did go the extra mile recently.

The troika made the drive from Augusta to Jacksonville, Fla., to cover the Georgia-Florida game Nov. 2. After the Cocktail Party was over, Kane, Hart and Davis convoyed to East Lake in Atlanta for Sunday's final round of The Tour Championship and a chance to grab some highlights and sound bites of local hero Charles Howell.

"That was nuts," Kane said.

Of course it was nuts. It's November sweeps.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.