Ratings cast shadow over ABC 7's morning glory

Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner

Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner

For more than 25 years, the sun rose over WLS-Channel 7. But now the ABC-owned station's dominance of Chicago viewership from dawn to high noon may be slipping away.

"ABC 7 News This Morning" has fallen out of first place from 5 to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday in overall audience and, more significantly, among adults between 25 and 54. In addition, the move earlier this month of "Windy City Live" to 11 a.m. in order to make room for "Live with Kelly and Michael" at 9 a.m. has cost the station viewership in both time periods.

Though still the market's revenue leader, ABC 7 no longer commands the top spot it once took for granted in all local time periods. The daytime juggernaut fueled for a quarter-century by "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is a memory.

Nor is the formerly bulletproof station immune from the harsh realities of the industry, as it once was. Last month six ABC 7 staffers were laid off as part of companywide cutbacks ordered by Disney/ABC Television Group. (Among them was managing editor Andy Porte, a legendary figure in the newsroom, who began his career 52 years ago at Chicago's City News Bureau. "This business we've chosen doesn't really seem to have room for dinosaurs or anachronisms like me," Porte told his colleagues.)

The latest programming changes were prompted by the acquisition of "Live with Kelly and Michael," the syndicated talk show hosted by Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan. Distributed by Disney-ABC Domestic Television, it aired for the past decade at 9 a.m. on Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9, where it became a ratings winner.

The move presented a dilemma for ABC 7, which already had invested two years in "Windy City Live," the locally produced replacement for Oprah Winfrey at 9 a.m. In choosing to keep "Live with Kelly and Michael" in its established time period, the station shifted "Windy City Live" to 11 a.m., canceling a top-rated local newscast after more than 20 years. While headlines and weather updates were added to the format, viewers would never confuse the gabfest hosted by Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini with a real news show.

Since the new schedule debuted Sept. 2, according to Nielsen figures, ABC 7's overall ratings are down 13 percent at 9 a.m., 29 percent at 10 a.m. (with ABC's "The View"), and 36 percent at 11 a.m. In the 25-to-54 adult demo, ratings are down 11 percent at 9 a.m., 41 percent at 10 a.m. and 46 percent at 11 a.m.

WGN, which replaced "Live with Kelly and Michael" with an additional hour of its marathon "WGN Morning News," is down 9 percent at 9 a.m. in both overall ratings and the 25-to-54 demo. But it appears to have benefited by ABC 7's decision to cancel the 11 a.m. newscast with Linda Yu and Sylvia Perez. Ratings for "WGN Midday News" at that hour, anchored by Steve Sanders and Dina Bair, are up as much as 42 percent.

John Idler

John Idler

John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, said he was confident in the moves he's made and warned against reading too much into the ratings after only a few weeks. He predicted that viewers would adjust to the changes and pointed to consistent growth over the three-week trend.

"It’s getting to be a better and better story each day," Idler said in an interview Wednesday. By the end of this week, "Live with Kelly and Michael" will have reclaimed the time period in total households: "I would argue that the audience is still finding the program on another television station. It hasn’t transferred over directly, but after week after week, they’re finding the program."

Idler said he also felt "very encouraged" by the progress "Windy City Live" is making in its new time slot, notably among women between 25 and 54.

"It certainly did well at 9 o’clock, and now that we’ve moved it back two hours, it’s going to take a while for the audience to find it," he said. "I’m encouraged by what I see — particularly on the female side of the demo, which is really the demo we pay attention to the most in daytime. We’ve seen some nice numbers in women 25-54. I’m encouraged by that."