Leno switch hurts WBAL

December 20, 2009|By David Zurawik | david.zurawik@baltsun.com | Sun TV Critic

Most analysts predicted that the arrival of Nielsen's Local People Meters in July would shake up the world of Baltimore TV in 2009. The advanced, instant ability to electronically count viewers was expected to show that leading stations like WBAL and WJZ were over-counted by the old diary method, while stations with smaller audiences, like WBFF, WMAR and WNUV, were under-counted.

While there was a tiny bit of realignment in that regard, it was a programming decision made by NBC executives in New York and Los Angeles that truly changed the local TV news landscape here. NBC's decision to move late-night talk show host Jay Leno to prime time and air his show at 10 p.m. Monday through Friday knocked affiliate WBAL out of contention as a front-runner in late news and handed that most lucrative of all local newscasts to WJZ.

By October, WBAL's 11 p.m. newscast had lost 58 percent of its audience of 25-to-54-year-old viewers compared with last year. And that is the demographic on which most advertising buys for local newscasts are made. WBAL's loss as a result of the Leno lead-in is one of the worst hits taken by any major market station in the country.

And the competition is not limited to arch rival WJZ. At 10 p.m., not only did Leno get beat by prime-time entertainment programming on the other network-owned and affiliated stations in Baltimore, but WBFF Fox-45 also beat Leno with its 10 p.m. newscast.

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