Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Derby a ratings winner for NBC

By The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby has been a ratings winner for NBC. In the past two years, the network has had a bigger audience for the Run for the Roses than ABC did in the 10 years before, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In 2001, the first year NBC had the Derby rights, 13.4 million people tuned in. Last year, 12.8 million watched the race on television. The biggest audience ABC had in the past dozen years was 11.6 million in 1991.

"With the TV landscape going the way it is, it's very hard to get higher ratings, but we've been lucky, and for the past two years NBC has had higher ratings than ABC did for the Derby," David Michaels, the network producer of the Derby, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Michaels said he thinks there are several factors for the bigger TV turnout.

"I think there is more interest in horse racing now, and putting it on from 5 to 6:30 is a better time," he said.

Scheduling the program's start a half-hour later than ABC did gives more people time to come in from the garden or the golf course to see the race, in Michaels' view. He also thinks the way NBC is doing the Derby makes a difference.

"We've tried to make it more of a live event from Churchill Downs, making you feel like you're really there at the track, rather than throwing in all kinds of prepackaged tape stories," he said.

The changes have also worked for WAVE-TV, which registered 502,000 people watching the race on NBC in this area in 2001 - the second-largest TV audience ever for the Derby in the Louisville area.

WHAS had the biggest local TV audience in the past three decades for the Derby when 504,000 people watched Lil E. Tee win in 1992. About 425,000 saw the race last year on WAVE, according to station officials. WHAS averaged 445,000 viewers for the race in the 1990s.

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