August 5, 2008

Channel 7 Continues to Lose Ground in Local News Ratings

By Alan Pergament

There isn't any way to be certain, but it sure looks like the labor-management battle at Channel 7 is further eroding the news ratings at the third-place station.

One thing is for certain -- the union Web site and its campaign asking viewers to turn off Channel 7 isn't helping the ABC affiliate.

In the just-completed July rating period, 7 News saw news rating declines ranging from 15 percent to 27 percent from a year ago for the late afternoon and evening newscasts. The newscasts at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. had a combined rating of 14.0, which a decade ago was the average for its 6 p.m. news.

Of course, July is the least important rating period of the year and Channel 7's network, ABC, has been the least competitive this summer. It doesn't try very hard to get an audience on the nights it replays serialized series like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives."

Additionally, the low-rated 4 p.m. lead-in "PM Buffalo" (1.3 rating) is a momentum killer for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news. The 5 p.m. news especially suffers because of its lead-in.

Things are so bad at 7 News that the 5.5 rating it gets at 11 p.m. is its highest news rating. You can't fault the station's primary anchors, Keith Radford and Joanna Pasceri. The circumstances are beyond any anchor's control at the once dominant station.

In July 1998, Channel 7 was first at 6 p.m. with a 14.0 rating, followed by Channel 4 with an 11.8 and Channel 2 with a 3.1. That totals 28.9 ratings points, two years before meters entered this market to measure the audience in a different and supposedly more accurate way. To illustrate how much local TV news ratings have dropped at 6 p.m. in a decade, this July the three news departments combined for 20.2 rating points. A rating point equals 6,367 households, which is only 68 more households than a rating point equaled a decade ago.

There could be several reasons for the 30 percent combined ratings decline in a decade. The audience is measured differently, people have more newscasts available and the Internet to get their news, and there is more competition than ever from cable.

The continuing slide of Channel 7 overshadows yet another sweeps victory for Channel 4 news, which won every time period in July. That includes 6 a.m., where Channel 2 won a year ago.

Channel 4 more than doubles Channel 7's ratings at 5 p.m. and comes close to achieving that at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Channel 2 is solidly in second place and closest to Channel 4 at 11 p.m., where it is down by only one rating point. Of course, the full picture emerges when the demographics arrive in a week or so.

Other things of note:

*Channel 2 Closes Noon Gap: WGRZ-TV's relatively new news program moved to within 1.1 points of Channel 7, 4.4-3.3, for second place. Channel 4 (8.8) has higher ratings than its competitors have combined.

*10 p.m. News Scores: Channel 4 news on WNLO-TV averages a 6.5 rating, which is higher than many prime time entertainment programs. Channel 2's 10 p.m. news on WNYO-TV averages only a 2.7, but that's 50 percent higher than it had a year ago.

*Reality Largely Ignored: Reality shows are everywhere in the summer, but in Western New York they comprise only a handful of the Top 25 entertainment programs on the broadcast networks here. Repeats of scripted shows dominate the Top 25.

Channel 4, the CBS affiliate, also is the prime-time victor. Repeats of "Two and a Half Men" and "CSI" finish first and third in prime time, with NBC's reality show "America's Got Talent" in second place. CBS' original summer scripted series "Flashpoint" and "Swingtown" also are doing very well here.

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Originally published by NEWS TV CRITIC.

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