As viewers vanish, Chicago's late-news ratings race ends in photo finish

Stefan Holt and Allison Rosati (Photo: NBC Chicago)

Chicago’s late-news viewership declined dramatically in May, resulting in a three-way tie for first place in a key audience measurement, according to Nielsen figures released Thursday.

ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, the perennial market leader, again finished first in total households at 10 p.m. Monday through Friday — although its ratings were off more than 20 percent from May 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown was in effect.

Fallout from the controversial firing of popular sports anchor Mark Giangreco in March also may have contributed to ABC 7’s year-to-year decline.

But the big story of the May sweep was the massive defection of viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, the demographic tied most closely to advertising revenue and the one followed most intensely by the industry.

In the adult demo at 10 p.m., ABC 7 was down 42 percent and NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 was down 30 percent, with both posting identical 1.4 ratings. Nexstar Media Group WGN-Channel 9 fell 37 percent to a 1.0 rating and CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 fell 50 percent to a 0.4 rating.

In the adult demo at 9 p.m., WGN was down 33 percent to a 1.4 rating, prompting the station to declare itself also a late-news winner (albeit at an earlier hour). Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 fell 20 percent to a 0.8 rating.

The unusually close finish had analysts at ABC 7, NBC 5 and WGN scrambling to discern who's on first. Each station parsed its own version of victory. In the end, all three were separated by only 203 viewers out of a total of 201,798 in the demo, according to Nielsen.

David Doebler

Closing the gap with ABC 7 must have been especially sweet for David Doebler, who is retiring next week after eight years as president and general manager of NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago WSNS-Channel 44.

Succeeding him is Kevin Cross, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Chicago, who will continue to oversee the regional sports network in addition to the two stations. Frank Whittaker is station manager and vice president of news.

"Chicago is a great journalism town with excellent newsrooms," Doebler said Thursday. "I could not be more proud of our teams at NBC Chicago and Telemundo Chicago. Their commitment to journalism is something special. Winning the 10 p.m. news is a tribute to their dedication and hard work. They are a great bunch of people who really strive to do what is right."

Thursday's comment of the day: Jim Rocklin: The day has come when subscribing to the Tribune is now a futile effort in supporting Chicago journalism (regardless if it's considered liberal or conservative). Reading stories ripped from the AP wire is not local reporting. And there is no point in supporting the modern day robber baron, Alden, who chose of all industries the critical newspaper business to decimate. Guess it's time to cancel my subscription. Sad day indeed.