The Sevens have it

Want a winner? Bet on seven every time – NY, LA, Chicago ABC O&Os dominate February sweeps

No Oprah? No All My Children? No One Life to Live?

No problem.

Even without three of their long-time stalwarts of their schedule (and threats from soap opera fans never to watch ABC again), ABC owned-and-operated stations continue  their  ratings domination in the three largest markets.

While the replacements for The Oprah Winfrey Show, All My Children, and One Life To Live didn’t come close to matching their year-ago time period shares, WABC-TV in New York City, KABC-TV in Los Angeles, and WLS-TV in Chicago still came out on top, winning almost all local news time periods. In fact, Time Out Chicago columnist Robert Feder pointed out Monday that WLS has topped the local ratings in Chicago for 25 consecutive years, going from worst to first.

As Feder noted (in a chart in a earlier post on Friday), WLS won all local news time periods, including finishing first at 10 pm with an 8 rating/14 share in households and a 3.8/11 among the key news demo of adults 25-54, with a 36 percent ratings advantage over second-place WMAQ and a 81 percent ratings advantage over CBS’ WBBM-TV and Tribune-owned WGN’s 9 pm newscast, respectively.

New York’s WABC also swept all local news time slots in February (with the exception of 4 p.m., where WABC finished second to WCBS’ Judge Judy and tied her in the 25-54 demo.) WABC’s 5 pm newscast won its time slot for the 92nd straight sweep – and did so without Oprah, which led into the 5 pm news for 24 years.

In Los Angeles, KABC won all weekday news slots among total viewers and in adults 25-54, notes Michael Schneider of Franklin Avenue. KABC finished first at 11 weeknights (in seven-day totals, KCBS edged out KABC in total viewers and tied in 25-54) and swept all the morning and afternoon races.

Many observers were wondering if ABC’s stations would be severely impacted by the loss of the three long-time franchises – not to mention the limp performances of replacements The Chew and The Revolution – the latter on the verge of getting canceled. Instead, WABC, KABC, and WLS all kept their top-rated status – and that’s good news for Katie Couric’s new syndicated talker this fall, which premieres at 3 p.m. on all three stations in September.

Meanwhile, ABC’s competitors haven’t really taken advantage of the upheaval. CBS O&O stations in the top three markets have improved their news ratings – particularly at WBBM and KCBS – and have stronger syndicated programming than in years past, but still trail their ABC counterparts.

As for the NBC stations in the top three, WNBC in New York is still recovering from a disastrous decision a few years back to cancel the popular Live at Five for an infotainment show (it has since returned), while its noon newscast was beaten by Steve Wilkos on WPIX. KNBC’s news director (Chicago native Vicki Burns, a WMAQ-TV and WBBM-TV alum) left the Los Angeles station last week after only a year-and-a-half amid stagnant ratings. And while WMAQ here in Chicago is better off than its New York and Los Angeles counterparts – the second place finish at 10 pm and its afternoon newscasts among adults 25-54 – and a 43 percent increase in ratings at noon from what Real Housewives reruns earned in the slot last year (noted by Feder in Friday’s article) – still leaves it behind WLS (and also behind WGN-TV in morning news.)

Comcast, which bought 51 percent of NBC Universal last year, is investing millions of dollars in the NBC O&O’s news operations by making numerous improvements: just weeks ago, WMAQ overhauled their newscasts with new sets, new graphics, and new music. However, its going to take time to build an audience (the network being mired in fourth place in prime-time for years certainly doesn’t help) and the same can be said for WNBC and KNBC.

Meanwhile, other competing station groups are sticking with low-rated shows – namely underperformers Anderson and The Jeremy Kyle Show – which puts Fox out of the competitive loop, at least in daytime (WNYW in New York and KTTV in Los Angeles have had some successes in news, namely at 10 pm.) Meanwhile, Tribune stations have been successful with Jerry Springer (NY and LA only, as Weigel’s WCIU airs the show here) and especially Maury; but has a lot of aging off-network series such as Two and a Half Men, Family Guy, and Friends. At least WGN has a strong news operation and sports to fall back on.

Given the lackluster competition, look for ABC-owned stations to dominate for some time to come. The shows may change, but the results stay the same.