Late-Night Newscasts See Big Drop In Viewers
Weak Lead-In Shows Hurt 11 p.m. Ratings

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

A precipitous decline in late prime-time viewership took its toll on 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts, according to Nielsen figures for TV's November "sweeps" period that concluded yesterday.

All three local stations that have network programming after 10 p.m. -- WRC (Channel 4), WJLA (Channel 7), WUSA (Channel 9) -- saw late-newscast viewership plummet by more than 10 percent compared with last year.

Total weekday viewers at 11 p.m. fell from 463,000 last November to 382,000 at those stations -- a decline of nearly 20 percent. The stations were hurt in no small part by the sharp decrease in ratings among the network lead-in shows; at 10:45 p.m., local weekday viewership fell by more than 25 percent (from 673,000 to 505,000).

At WJLA, the drop was most drastic. The station's 11 p.m. viewership plunged by about 35 percent compared with last year (from 123,000 to 79,000). The ABC affiliate got no help from such anemic lead-ins as "The Nine," which was just put on hiatus.

Bill Lord, WJLA's vice president of news, said that overall, the station's prime-time lineup performed well, led by such midweek hits as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost" -- but those programs air at 9 p.m. "The thing that concerns me is the lead-in," he said. "It's an ongoing issue with us."

Ratings from the year's four sweeps periods are used to set rates for advertisers.

WRC led at 11 p.m., but weekday viewership of its newscast was down 11 percent (from 200,000 last year to 178,000). WUSA (Channel 9) declined by about 15,000 viewers, to 125,000.

At WTTG (Channel 5), the 11 p.m. newscast -- which debuted in July -- drew 80,000 viewers. (Last year, the station's "Geraldo at Large" had 68,000 viewers at that time.)

The station's 10 p.m. newscast, though, was down -- from 174,000 viewers to 160,000.

The area's most popular news station remained WRC. From early morning to late night, WRC trumped the three other stations when newscasts went head-to-head.

WRC's highest ratings were at 6 p.m., with its one-hour newscast drawing nearly 230,000 viewers, up about 20 percent and more than double WJLA (107,000 viewers). Trailing them was WUSA (79,000), although that newscast had roughly a 20 percent increase.

Nearly all early-morning newscasts (5 to 7 a.m.) grew in popularity. WRC led with 89,000 viewers, followed by WUSA (52,000), WJLA (49,000) and WTTG (46,000).

At 5 p.m., WUSA anchors Tracey Neale and Derek McGinty -- who this year replaced J.C. Hayward and Todd McDermott -- helped the newscast climb from 47,000 to 57,000 viewers, although the station remains in fifth place.

WDCW's prime-time ratings increased by 15 percent over last year, when it was a WB affiliate. In September, the station became the home of the CW. The network averaged 65,000 viewers Sunday through Friday (8 to 10 p.m.), when the station broadcasts network programming.

WDCW posted gains in its daytime lineup. "The People's Court" at 10 a.m. averaged 55,000 viewers -- just 4,000 shy of WRC's 10 a.m. newscast. WDCW's "Maury Povich" at noon went from fourth last November to second in the time slot, growing to 57,000 viewers and trailing only WUSA's noon news (104,000).

"We're really happy," said Eric Meyrowitz, WDCW's station vice president and general manager. "Any time you make changes, you're taking a chance. So to see growth across the board is awesome."

Meanwhile, WDCA -- which began airing the programming of Fox-owned My Network TV this past fall -- nose-dived in prime time. Its soap operas "Desire" and "Fashion House" averaged just 36,000 viewers combined. WDCA's prime-time lineup last November, when it carried UPN programming, averaged 78,000 viewers.

In the network news race, Katie Couric helped WUSA draw more viewers at 6:30 p.m., with "CBS Evening News" averaging 93,000 -- an increase of more than 20,000 from last November, when Bob Schieffer was anchor. Still, Couric was third in the time slot, behind the second half-hour of WRC's local newscast (228,000) and WJLA's "World News With Charles Gibson" (123,000).

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