After the results of the first three weeks, it was about as expected as the Oscar win of “The Artist” as best film. However, Channel 2 reporters, anchors and managers still have to feel like award honorees after officially winning most of the key battleground news areas during the four-week long February sweeps period that ended Wednesday night.
Channel 2 actually declared victory a night before sweeps ended when it ran promos announcing it had overtaken Channel 4 from 5 a.m. through 7 a.m. and from 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The feat says as much about Channel 2 making all the right moves in the past few years as it does about Channel 4 making so many wrong moves.
It took Channel 4 far too long to add an impressive new anchor in Diana Fairbanks and a new high definition set. And it could take even longer to regain news dominance in the market.
In many ways, Channel 4’s slide is similar to Channel 7’s earlier slide, starting with the loss of Oprah Winfrey as the early news lead-in. Channel 7 let Oprah get away to Channel 4 many years ago. Through no fault of its own, Channel 4 had the misfortune of seeing Oprah retire her daytime talk show.
The lead-in that Channel 2 received from “Ellen” at 4 p.m. now beats Channel 4’s lead-in from Oprah’s replacement, “Dr. Oz.” “Ellen” rose 4 percent from a year ago to a 5.3 rating, while the 4.6 for “Dr. Oz” was almost 40 percent lower than Oprah’s lead-in from a year ago.
As a result, Channel 2 won the 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, with almost a combined 29.0 ratings points. Channel 4 was second in each time slot with almost a combined 25 ratings points. Channel 7 was a weak third with 11.5 points.
At 6 a.m., Channel 2’s lead widened by almost a full point from a year ago over Channel 4, which has discovered moving meteorologist Amelia Segal’s into Mike Cejka’s spot isn’t the answer.
Channel 4 still dominates at noon (where Channel 2 doesn’t compete) and in the late evening but even the late evening victories come with some disappointing ratings news.
Its 10 p.m. newscast on WNLO with Fairbanks as the anchor beats Channel 2’s on WNYO with Melissa Holmes by 4.6-1.9. But while Channel 2’s 10 p.m. ratings were flat from a year ago, Channel 4’s 10 p.m. newscast slipped 25 percent in a year.
At 11 p.m., Channel 4 rides the advantage it gets from CBS’ prime time programming to a 9.1-6.2 advantage over Channel 2, which gets half the lead-in from NBC.
If you do the math, Channel 2 has a about a combined total of 37 points in the early morning, afternoon and late night time slots. Channel 4 has a collective total of 38.5 points in the same time periods (without the noon) so it can declare an overall victory. Channel 7 news has about half the news audience of its rivals, with a combined 19 ratings points in the same time periods.
Channel 4 News should maintain its edge at 11 p.m. as long as CBS programming remains strong in prime time. However, the trends are against it everywhere else but at 10 p.m., when it has a competitive advantage by being on a station it owns.
The Buffalo market is notoriously slow to change news habits. Once it does, it generally takes a seismic mistake by the news leader to give a competitor a chance to regain the top spot.
In Channel 4’s case, the major mistake besides losing Oprah was cutting news staff and replacing departing veterans with young reporters and anchors who weren’t immediately ready for the big time.
In the meantime, Channel 2 showcased a much better balance of veteran reporters and newcomers. It is hard to imagine it will make any of Channel 4’s mistakes any time soon. But as they say in the lottery advertisments, “hey, you never know.”