WMAQ pulls off 10 p.m. news upset

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Beat WLS-TV in key news demo for the first time in nearly 20 years

Dispute in 10 p.m. news race in Milwaukee

The last time WMAQ won the 10 p.m. news race in adults 25-54 demo, Ron Magers and Carol Marin were still anchoring, ER was the hottest show on television, and Jay Leno was hosting the Tonight Show.

Nineteen years later, the NBC-owned station is back on top in local news’ most important – and profitable demographic.

But it wasn’t a blowout by any means – its triumph over perennial leader WLS-TV was only one-tenth of a ratings point, 3.6 to 3.5. in the key 25-54 demo. In order to hold viewers, WMAQ pushed back its ad breaks later into the newscast for an uninterrupted flow. Station officials also cited its investigative stories, which received a major boost a few years ago from corporate parent NBC after it was acquired by Comcast.

WMAQ also benefited from the strong performance of Chicago Blackhawks playoff games, though they aired on weekends.

To be sure, the ABC-owned station did win in households, beating WMAQ by two points. But keep in mind advertisers don’t usually by household numbers (except maybe for sporting events.) According to another media website, WLS did sweep early fringe news time slots, but WGN-TV finished a strong second in the 25-54 demo from 4 to 6 p.m., ahead of WMAQ. WLS continues to be the market’s most-watched station.

Both WMAQ and WLS were up from last year; in May 2014, many Chicago stations lost ground in the 25-54 demo, with the second biggest loss in news audience combined (down 21 percent from May 2013), only behind Boston.

Despite a strong showing from David Letterman’s last shows and popular CBS primetime programming, WBBM was far behind in the 25-54 demo, finishing with a 0.9 rating, perhaps an historic low. The last time WBBM won at 10 p.m. an non-Olympic sweeps period was in November 1984.

On Wednesday, Letterman’s finale earned a 12.2 local rating.

At 9 p.m., WFLD also earned a 0.9 rating in the 25-54 demo for its newscast, putting it behind WGN-TV’s newscast. Without Empire, which wrapped its season in March, there was no powerful vehicle to drive WFLD’s newscast as Fox’s primetime lineup finished fourth nationally.

WMAQ wasn’t the only local NBCUniversal property to celebrate a ratings victory. Telemundo’s WSNS scored a ratings victory over Univision-owned WGBO, beating them in the adults 18-34 and the adults 18-49 demo, up 100 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Both WSNS and WMAQ are owned by NBCUniversal and their news teams have appeared in billboards together.

Telemundo’s local stations also put up strong demo numbers in Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, and Philadelphia.

Milwaukee

While WMAQ barely WLS in Chicago, up north on I-94, there was also a close news race at 10 p.m. ABC affiliate WISN-TV, owned by the Hearst Corp. , virtually tied Tribune-owned Fox affiliate WITI in households, each with a 6.3. But WITI disputed this, saying they won by a few tenths of a ratings point (6.31 to 6.25), with an anchor for the station claiming in a tweet they beat WISN by the slimmest of margins.

Meanwhile, NBC affiliate WTMJ caught a break this month with the retirement of longtime anchor Mike Jacobs. The once-dominant station did manage to finish third at 10 p.m., finishing ahead of Weigel Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate WDJT. Like its affiliated sister station in Chicago, WDJT failed to take advantage of CBS’ strong primetime lineup and Letterman’s retirement.

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