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Laughs trumped reality for local viewers during February sweeps

Alan Pergament

It is 6:30 p.m. and the nation is dealing with a potential ongoing pandemic and trying to settle on a Democratic presidential nominee: Do you know where the viewers are?

One of the startling takeaways from the recent February sweeps from Nielsen is the viewership decline of the three network news programs that run at 6:30 p.m. on WIVB-TV (Channel 4), WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) and WKBW-TV (Channel 7).

And I’m not just talking about viewers fleeing from “The CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell.”

Sure, O’Donnell’s second-place newscast on WIVB is down locally about 16% in households from the average that it had a year earlier when Tonawanda native Jeff Glor was the anchor.

But first place “The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” is down about 18% on WGRZ and ABC “World News Tonight with David Muir” is down about 33% on WKBW.

The three network newscasts have a collective household rating of 25.6, down more than 20% from the 20.3 collective rating of a year ago.

Holt’s newscast is in the lead with an 8.7 rating, with O’Donnell second with a 7.1 rating and Muir third with a 4.5.

Of course, the lead-ins they get from the local newscasts can help or hurt national newscasts.

One obvious reason is the ratings decline of the three local newscasts that serve as the lead-ins for the national news programs.

Muir’s newscast actually increases 20% from the 3.6 household lead-in that Channel 7’s 6 p.m. news lead-in gives him.

Holt’s newscast dips about 5% from the 9.2 lead-in that Channel 2’s 6 p.m. newscast gives it.

O’Donnell’s newscast takes the biggest hit from its lead-in. Channel 4’s 6 p.m. newscast averages a 9.7 rating, which means her newscast loses about 28% of Channel 4's average.

Holt also wins in the key 18-49 and 25-54 demographics by significant margins. In the 18-49 more important to networks, Holt (2.7) has a higher rating than O’Donnell (1.3) and Muir (1.0) combined.

In the 25-54 demo more important to local stations, Holt (3.6) almost equals O’Donnell (2.5) and Muir (1.2) combined.

Nationally, Muir’s “World News Tonight” is No. 1 in total viewers and in the 25-54 demo, with Holt’s newscast second and O’Donnell’s third.

All three national newscasts have experienced declines from a year ago, with O’Donnell’s newscast declining the highest percentage in TV viewers and the 25-54 demo.

While network news viewing is way down, viewing of the late-night network programs are significantly higher in Western New York than they were a year ago. (I don’t have national numbers.)

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on WIVB is No. 1. with a 3.4 household rating to a 2.9 for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on WGRZ and a 1.2 rating for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on WKBW.

The total of 7.5 household ratings points is about 20% higher than the 6.3 total of a year ago.

Colbert and Fallon are tied in the 18-49 demo, with both almost doubling their performance from a year ago. Colbert has a slight edge in the 25-54 demo.

NBC’s “Today” on Channel 2 still dominates locally, with “Good Morning America” on Channel 7 taking over second place from “CBS This Morning” on Channel 4, which saw its household rating decline by about 40% here.

Nationally, “GMA” is No.1 in total viewers, while “Today” wins the 25-54 demo.

The local decline in nightly news viewing and the increase in late-night viewing suggests Western New Yorkers were looking more for laughs than reality in February.

I’m only slightly joking. After all, the collective late-night ratings are about one-third of the collective nightly news ratings.

More likely, the dramatic percentage shifts from a year ago are a reflection of the changes in Nielsen methodology now that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 set top boxes measuring audience instead of the 400 a year ago.


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