The News Is Good For Channel 4

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 2007

WRC (Channel 4) news pulled off multiple victories in the recent May ratings sweeps, despite the weak lead-ins provided by its parent network, NBC.

NBC finished fourth nationally behind ABC, CBS and Fox in total viewers and the all-important younger demographic during the sweeps, which concluded Wednesday. But locally, WRC once again was No. 1 among viewers with newscasts that went head-to-head with the competition.

The network-owned station, which has struggled with budget reductions, staff cuts and some high-profile departures, did take some hits, most notably in late-night news and with the important 25-to-54 audience.

The station's 11 p.m. newscast, which directly follows prime time, drew 146,000 viewers. That was still tops in the market but is down a staggering 50,000 viewers from last May. There was a comparable drop among 25-to-54-year-olds, the key demographic in local news.

WRC President and General Manager Michael Jack acknowledged that the station is "challenged" in prime-time ratings but said "viewers still turn to us at 11 p.m. despite being fourth in the lead-in."

CBS affiliate WUSA (Channel 9) finished second at 11 p.m., just 30,000 viewers behind WRC. ABC affiliate WJLA (Channel 7), which had a strong prime time, was third at 11 p.m., with just over 100,000 viewers. WTTG's 10-month-old 11 p.m. news drew 95,000 viewers.

Top "late-night" newscast honors, though, went to the 10 p.m. news on WTTG (Channel 5), which does not compete with another local newscast at that time. The hour-long program, anchored by Brian Bolter and Shawn Yancy, drew nearly 200,000 viewers and ranked as the top-watched newscast overall when comparing all time slots. The station again owes some credit to ratings powerhouse "American Idol," which helps build a lead-in audience on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

WJLA was the only station in town to show improvement compared with a year earlier in nearly all the time slots. The station made gains both among total viewers as well as with 25-to-54-year-olds. Its biggest jumps came at 6 p.m. (92,000 viewers, up 15,000) and 11 p.m. (102,000, up 10,000).

"You got to be pleased when every one of our newscasts is showing an uptick at a time when overall news viewing appears to be declining," said Bill Lord, WJLA's vice president for news.

WJLA beat WRC in the 5-to-7 p.m. block among 25-to-54-year-olds, which Lord says is the most important age group for advertisers. "From a business perspective that's the only number that anybody in [local news] sales look at," Lord said.

WJLA benefited this May from ABC's strong prime-time lineup, which includes "Dancing With the Stars" and "Grey's Anatomy."

Elsewhere, local CW affiliate WDCW is up in prime time from last year when the station was an affiliate of the now-defunct WB. The station is up 7 percent among total viewers, averaging nearly 60,000 viewers. It had a 13 percent gain among its targeted audience of 25-to-54-year-olds.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company