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WPIX News Director Bill Carey Says Station ‘Blew Through Our Own Estimates’ With Transformation at 10 p.m.

After recently reporting changes to the WPIX sports department and other measures, FishbowlNY now sheds light on what news director Bill Carey sees as important innovative steps to improve the standing of his operation.

 As you’ll recall, Channel 11 underwent a new 10 p.m. look on October 11, bringing in Jodi Applegate, late from News 12 Long Island.

The tandem of Kaity Tong and Jim Watkins was relocated. Tong still has roots on the weeknight newscast, but “anchoring” portions from remote locations in Brooklyn or Queens. Watkins anchors four newscasts, but he has been relegated to weekends.

As we told you last week, the sports section of WPIX is no more, other than Applegate reading a few scores (the no-frills graphic is a throwback to the Jerry Girard days).

With the station about to mark the pivotal six-month period, FishbowlNY spoke to Carey for his examination of the product and the all-important ratings.

“When I put my plan together last year, I forecast that we would go down in ratings for six months, and that it would take a while to find its audience and build,” Carey tells FishbowlNY. “But the evaluation that I had made was that we could grow it to a higher height than where we were treading along.

“Much to all of our delight, and hard work of the staff, we blew through our own estimates … We enjoyed a win in November, which was very gratifying to the team and validated ourselves for a month,” Carey says. “And now, we’re measuring our success against ourselves.”

You can put an asterisk next to the “win” that Carey mentioned. The November sweeps got underway as Fox 5/WNYW and Cablevision were embroiled in a bitter carriage dispute. It affected the first two days of the sweeps results.

As delighted as he was for the win, Carey explores the bigger picture.

“You look and see what you did in November, but you understand that that’s a month where everybody has original programming on,” Carey admits. “So how you do in December compared to that really isn’t as important to show growth, as where you were last December to this December.”

Using that litmus test, Carey says PIX passed with flying colors. 

“…We’re delighted with our objective measurements, subjectively we’re resumes from all around the country of people who want to come here and try to do the news differently, and break out of the same rut that everybody’s in,” Carey says. 

WPIX is giving itself those personal goals, because they haven’t been able to beat the competition (save for November), specifically WNYW/Fox 5 with anchors Ernie Anastos and Dari Alexander.  

WPIX performed well behind WNYW in the all-important February 2010 sweeps. Among the pivotal Adults 25 to 54 demographic, which is used by the sales department to generate ad rates, WNYW had a 1.8 compared to WPIX with a .8 rating.

Delving further, FishbowlNY has obtained the March rating that shows WNYW actually making gains on WPIX (although Channel 11 did have its own slight improvement). In the 25 to 54 demo, Fox 5 outpaced WPIX, 2.2 to .9.

Already with several changes, some from the outset, to the PIX News at Ten, Carey says this is no time to remain static.

“We’re emboldened by going our own way with stories, getting away from the obvious stories that everybody does, and building out more advocacy/commentary/opinion,” Carey says. “We’re just at the beginning stages of becoming more interactive with our viewers.”

He says viewers will have the opportunity to participate in conversations with Channel 11 staffers.

“We want to be known as the best place where you can tune in and sound off in real time and be validated and count,” Carey says. “Where this goes is going to be a fun experiment with New Yorkers about how engaged we can get with them in the course of an hour.”

Once they complete the hard news, live remote-intensive Top 11 stories in 11 minutes, another of Carey’s newscast signature is on display—opinion and commentary.  

“You got to remember, a year ago nobody was doing any commentary in late news. Then, when we first launched Larry Mendte (a multiple-Emmy winner Sunday night) as commentator it was received with a lot of looks over the shoulder,” Carey recalls. “Next thing you know, I got general managers showing up doing editorials on other stations.”

Carey is referring to WNYW vice president/general manager Lew Leone who does a Lew’s View segment on the Fox 5 newscast and posted on the Web. (WNYW also incorporates stand-up comedian Jessie Cantrell into the news for a witty repartee with people on the street.)

Sources close to Fox 5 tell FishbowlNY that several Fox-owned stations began doing commentaries in January 2010, one month prior to the first Mendte sighting at WPIX.  Fox eventually brought the Leone commentaries to WNYW in July 2010.

Back to WPIX, they didn’t stop with Mendte, adding Lionel to the mix, and even reporter Greg Mocker is known to intersperse opinion.

“We’re really going our own way. People may like it, they may not like,” Carey says. “They’re all talking about it.”

However, if there’s any buzz surrounding the station, it likely starts with Applegate (above). 

“To come in … being received instantly and have the ratings go up when you’re a solo anchor, she deserves a pat on the back,” Carey says.

In the end, Carey is optimistic about the future of evening news on WPIX.  

“We are very encouraged that New York is open to a different news presentation and we’re feeling good about the overall reception that we’ve gotten,” Carey says.

The Tribune-owned news director isn’t just feeling good about viewership. He recognizes the rivals.

“It’s very gratifying that our competitors are acknowledging us, talk about us, even mimicking us,” Carey admits. “That wasn’t going on in the market regarding Channel 11 a year ago.

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