While many NBC affiliates and O&Os were uneasy about how the 10 p.m. experiment would affect local newscasts at 11, the results after not quite a month show that many stations are holding their own or are down no more than affiliates of the other networks. And NBC is also compensating its affiliates for any loss of the lead-in audience with extra inventory, although neither the network nor the affiliates are saying how much.
Last spring, when NBC unveiled its plan to air The Jay Leno Show every night at 10 o’clock rather than the usual lineup of big-budget dramas, many affiliates feared the variety hour would tank and drag their late newscasts down with it. WHDH Boston was so alarmed that it threatened to yank the show and air an hour-long newscast at 10 in its place.
Such apprehensions seem to have been misplaced.
Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 6, Leno was down 28 percent from the same time period last year among adults 25-54, according to an analysis of Nielsen ratings by media buying shop MediaVest. (The analysis does not include Leno’s first week when other new network shows were not yet airing and its ratings were inflated by viewers dropping by for one or two nights to see what all the fuss was about.)
But over the two-and-a-half weeks, the adult 25-54 audience in the late-news slot of NBC O&Os and affiliates was down just 12 percent from the same time last year, the analysis finds. That’s equal to the decline on ABC stations and only slightly worse than the 9 percent decline on CBS outlets.
“We are not seeing the disproportionate impact [on news] we were expecting, even though when it comes to primetime Leno is really driving NBC’s numbers down,” said John Spiropoulos, senior vice president and director of marketplace analytics at MediaVest.
And the affiliates aren’t complaining, at least not yet.
“All the 11 o’clock newscasts are off a little bit,” says Mike Fiorile, chairman of the NBC affiliate board and operator of the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis, WTHR. “It’s just too early to call it a runaway success or to say it’s not going to be what we hoped for.”
“This is the type of show that’s perfect as a news lead-in,” he said. “It’s topical, it’s daily, it’s 46 weeks of fresh, live programming. So, people who are interested in the days’ events, who are typical news viewers, are more likely to watch Leno and stick around for the late news.”
Affiliates and network officials credit strong promotion of the late news in and around Leno for keeping news audiences from plummeting.
“From the day he agreed to do the 10 o’clock show, Jay came to us and asked how he could help the affiliates,” says Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment.
“We don’t have commercial breaks between Leno and local news. He says ‘Your local news starts now.’ He does teases throughout the show for local news. And he’s worked with the teams at all the local stations on promo campaigns, where he is incorporated with the local anchors,” Gaspin says.
NBC is also compensating its affiliates for any loss of the lead-in audience with extra inventory, although neither the network nor the affiliates are saying how much.
A closer look at Leno‘s ratings in local people meter markets during its first three weeks (the show debuted Sept. 14) confirms the MediaVest analysis, but also shows a mix of results. While most station’s lead-out newscasts were down, a few actually inched up.
On NBC’s New York flagship, WNBC, Leno averaged a 2.1 rating in 25-54s with its lead-out late news averaging a 1.5. By comparison, for the same three weeks last year, WNBC’s news at 11 o’clock had a 1.8 in the demo.
For the week ending Oct. 4, Leno had a 1.6 and its lead-out news a 1.4.
Late news at O&O KNBC Los Angeles had a 1.9 for the three-week period this year and a 1.6 the week ending Oct. 4, compared to a 2 rating for the same three-week period last year.
In Chicago, NBC-owned WMAQ had a 3.6 for the three weeks and 3.1 the week ending Oct. 4, compared to a 3.2 last year.
“When we take out Leno’s premiere week, we’re about flat to last year,” said Toni Falvo, vice president of research, programming and press at WMAQ. “Before, when Leno was in late night, he had an audience that was a news viewer. I think that’s still the case. So far, we’re happy.”
News ratings on WCAU Philadelphia, another O&O, averaged a 2.2 for the three weeks this year, compared to a 2.7 last year.
News at the O&O in Dallas, KXAS, was down to a 2.4 from 2.6.
San Francisco O&O KNTV was among the gainers. It averaged a 1.8 over the three weeks, compared to a 1.1 last year.
Sunbeam Television’s WHDH Boston, which backed off from its threats to dump the show, averaged a 2.2 for its news in Leno’s first three weeks. It had a 2.5 last year. The station did not return phone calls for comment.
Gannett’s WXIA Atlanta averaged a 2.1, compared to a 1.6 in 25-54s last year.
Washington O&O WRC averaged a 2.5 so far this year, slightly up from last year’s 2.4.
By its own count, Post-Newsweek’s KPRC Houston averaged 2.2 for its late news for Leno’s first four weeks, down from 2.5 last November. (November was used for comparison because Hurricane Ike disrupted Nielsen ratings last fall).
General Manager Larry Blackerby says he’s satisfied with the initial showing. “The Leno experiment is a 52-week deal. We’re going through the toughest stretch of that 52 weeks because everybody is premiering their new programming. So, it’s hard to judge right now. In six months from now, we’ll see what it has done.”
At Gannett-owned KPNX Phoenix, its 10 o’clock news following Leno averaged a 2.4 in Leno’s first three weeks, equal to its rating for the year-earlier period. For the week of Oct. 4, however, KPNX news had a 1.6.
“The ratings estimates that our advertisers purchased were based on long-term expectations for the show,” says John Misner, KPNX president-GM. “Currently, Jay is delivering approximately the ratings we had planned on.”
No one is certain why the newscasts of affiliates of all the networks are losing viewers this season. Some speculate that it is simply more competition from other media, particularly the Internet, where consumer can find news all day long.
Others believe it may have something to do with DVRs. According to media buying shop Carat, 42 percent of DVR playback of recorded shows among 25-54s in LPM markets occurs within one hour of the recorded show’s original broadcast.
In other words, a good deal of DVR playback of Leno and other 10 o’clock shows may be taking place while the late news is on.