AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Post-‘Oprah’ Newscasts: So Far, So Good

Most of the seven top-25 stations that filled the 4 p.m. time period left by Oprah's departure with local newscasts report they’re pleased with their performance so far in this new TV season. Three are holding their top positions in household ratings, and at least two more are leading their markets in key demos. Here’s a first look at how the newscasts are doing.

News, it turns out, is proving a worthy successor to The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Three of the seven top-25 market stations that launched news to replace the talker at 4 p.m. are holding their top positions in household ratings in the timeslot, and at least two more are leading their markets in key demos.

The stations that held their positions in households are the ABC O&Os in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

ABC’s WABC New York, Cox Media Group’s WSB Atlanta, Gannett’s KSDK St. Louis and Belo’s KGW Portland, Ore., all dropped a notch, but WSB and KGW say they are happy with how they are doing in the demos.

Not surprising, none has been able to match Oprah’s audience.

Bill Carroll, EVP and director of programming at Katz Television group, says he sees the newscasts as generally successful, but it will be several months before their true value can be measured.

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“We have a snap shot of where things are at this particular moment, but you ultimately have to drill down and look at the demographics and what impact — positive, negative or neutral — they have on the newscasts that follow,” he says.

Here’s a market-by-market look at how the newscasts are doing based on household ratings for the first two weeks of October ending last Wednesday (Oct. 12):

New York: (DMA 1):  With a 2.3 rating/7 share, WABC dropped to second behind Judge Judy on WCBS.

Philadelphia (DMA 4): WPVI, ABC’s long dominant station, held on to its No. 1 ranking with a 4.0/10, competing against Dr. Phil on CBS O&O KYW and news on NBC O&O WCAU.

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San Francisco (DMA 6): KGO’s newscast with a 1.8/6 kept the ABC O&O No. 1, just ahead of Judge Judy on CBS O&O KPIX, Dr. Oz on Cox’s Fox affiliate KTVU and Dr. Phil on KRON, Young Broadcasting’s MNT station.

Atlanta (DMA 8): WSB’s newscast dropped to No. 2 with a 3.1/8, trailing Dr. Oz on Fox O&O WAGA.

St. Louis (DMA 21): KSDK ‘s half-hour newscast had a tough time competing against The Young and the Restless on KMOV, Belo’s CBS affiliate, and Judge Judy on Local TV’s Fox affiliate KTVI. It slipped from No. 2 to No. 3 with 4.0/10 share.

Portland, Ore. (DMA 22): The newscast KGW launched Sept. 12 earned a 2.1/6, but fell from first to second behind news on KATU, Fisher’s ABC affiliate.

Raleigh-Durham (DMA 24): ABC’s WTVD newscast, which launched its 4 p.m. newscast in May, ranked No. 2 in the time period with a 3.4/8, but so did Oprah, so it maintained its position.

ABC also replaced Oprah with news at its KFSN Fresno, Calif., and so now is airing news at 4 p.m. across the eight-station group.

“Our 4 p.m. newscasts in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno are off to tremendous starts, providing our viewers with even more quality reporting and insight than they expect from our local news teams,” said Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, in a statement prepared for this story (Campbell declined to be interviewed).

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Broadcasters at WSB and KGW also say they are pleased with the way things are going so far.

Steve Riley, WSB’s creative services director, says the newscast is performing well among coveted demographics, placing No. 1 in the time period with adults 25-54 during October to date. In addition, the news audience is more evenly divided between men and women, with women making up 46% of the newscast’s audience compared to 76% of Oprah’s.

“We did our homework,” Riley says. The station added reporters, photographers and writers along with its news hour, he says. “We are bringing in that much more content.”

In Portland, where KGW created the third 4 p.m. news in the market, the station’s Richard Jacobs says he, too, is getting the viewers he wants. “We launched the show on Sept. 12 and so far we are leading the market in the key demographic, women 25-54,” he says.

Gannett declined to discuss its newscast on KSDK, which also launched Sept. 12, yet, saying it was too early to talk.

While stations that lost Oprah may have been able to hold their positions with news or other syndicated shows, they have not been able to hang on to all of Oprah’s audience. In fact, they have come up far short.

In Atlanta, for example, Oprah earned a 6.5/15 during the first two weeks of October last year. It earned a 5.2/13 in Philadelphia. In San Francisco, Oprah had a 4/13.

But, as Jerry Gumbert, president and CEO of AR&D, the media strategy firm, says, even a moderately rated newscast could be considered successful — at least financially — because they are so much less expensive than Oprah, the most expensive daytime talk show ever.

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“People ask whether you can be successful with local news at 4 o’clock, but it depends how you define success,” he says. “If success is significantly cutting your expenses and getting the same amount of revenue then it’s a net win. When you add in that you are doing local programming to extend your news brand, then it’s a win-win.”

Plus, Carroll adds, “It’s always an advantage to have as much news inventory available in the political year.”

In most markets, stations replaced Oprah with other syndicated shows like Anderson, Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz with varying degrees of success.

And in at least one Top 25 market, a syndication-for-syndication swap has benefitted a competing local newscast. So far this season, WRC Washington’s 4 p.m. long-running newscast is drawing twice the number of women 25-54 viewers than it did during the same period last year, according to Matt Glassman, senior content producer.

In addition to propelling the station to No. 1 at 4 p.m. (it used to rank second or third behind Oprah), the dramatic rise in viewers has also boosted the station’s other early evening newscasts to No. 1 in their time periods as well, Glassman says. WRC’s 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts are now the three highest-rated newscasts in those time periods, he says.


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Catherine Lucey says:

October 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

The other and perhaps more crucial part of this story is the impact on 5 PM newscasts, since the CPPs are greater at 5 PM and stations were willing to use “Oprah” as a ‘loss leader’ to prop up the 5 PM news. It appears by a cursory glance at overnights that most stations (particularly ABC Owned and WSB) have retained their long-held 5 PM news dominance. While the 4 PM news ratings may be substantially lower than what “Oprah” provided, a lot of her audience only tuned in for her and then fled as soon as the news started. I am assuming that there is much more flow from 4 PM news to 5 PM news than there was from “Oprah,” thus ratings for the 5 PM have generally remained steady even though the overall lead-in is less. This is not even to mention the cost savings of news vs. “Oprah.” These stations did their research, and did it well.

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