By the narrowest of margins — one-tenth of one percent — WMAQ-Channel 5 eked out a first-place finish in key demographics for its 10 p.m. weekday newscast in May.
But it was enough for the NBC-owned station to claim a rare victory Thursday over Chicago’s perennial titleholder, ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7.
“We’ve made an investment in journalism and viewers are responding,” said David Doebler, president and general manager of NBC 5. “Over the last several years, we’ve experienced steady growth thanks to our investment in building the market’s most experienced weather team, the state’s largest investigative team, and a deep and sincere commitment to the community through our ‘Making a Difference’ franchise.”
Prestige and pride may have been on the line more than actual revenue given the infinitesimal margin separating the two stations. But that didn’t stop either one from resorting to a little sleight of hand in the final nights of the May sweeps, which ended Wednesday. By dropping commercials for the first 20 minutes or so of their newscasts, both stations showed how far they would go to retain viewers — and how much being first means to them.
In the end, NBC 5 averaged a 3.6 percent share of adults between 25 and 54, the most important demo to advertisers. ABC 7 was right behind with a 3.5 share, while CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 was out of the money with a 0.9 share. NBC 5 also won adults between 18 and 49 with a 2.5 share, followed by ABC 7 with a 2.3 share and CBS 2 with a 0.6 share.
The news wasn’t all bad for ABC 7, which still finished first in total households (reflecting the station's older viewership) and among women between 25 and 54.
At least until the next sweeps, look for NBC 5 to make the most of its momentum.
“We’ve been really focused on the execution of our news strategy: good investigative, major news, and weather coverage — making sure we deliver a lot of quality news in the half-hour we have,” said Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news at NBC 5. “I think our team has done an excellent job doing so this May.”