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Shifts in Local Television Landscape?

In case you missed it, the Providence Business News had an interesting piece a couple of days back on signs of a shift in the local TV news race:

PROVIDENCE – The 11 p.m. newscast on WPRI-TV CBS 12 garnered the most viewers in the key November ratings period for the first time since 1993 this year, dethroning longtime leader WJAR-TV NBC 10.

WPRI’s ratings surged 20 percent compared with last year, according to the Nielsen Co. The station averaged a 6.7 rating at 11 p.m., meaning 41,514 households in the Providence-New Bedford television market tuned in. WPRI’s share – the percentage of all viewers watching TV at 11 who tuned into WPRI – rose to 13 percent from 11 percent last year.

WJAR’s ratings plunged 35 percent at 11 p.m. The station averaged a 6.0 (37,177 households), down from a 9.3 (57,900 households) last year. Its 11 p.m. share fell to 12 percent of viewers, compared with 18 percent in 2008.

Although WLNE-TV ABC 6 remained far behind the other two stations, its late-night news gained 12 percent compared with last year to average a 2.7 rating (16,729 households) and a 5 percent share.

The November “sweeps” ratings period, which stretched from Oct. 29 to Nov. 25 this year, is crucial for broadcasters because it is used to set advertising rates.

Jay Howell, WPRI’s general manager, disputed the idea that the station’s victory was primarily due to the so-called “Leno effect” – the lower ratings WJAR and other NBC affiliates are getting with Jay Leno’s new show, as opposed to a traditional scripted program, in the 10 p.m. time slot, which leads into their newscasts.

In an interview earlier this month, Howell said WPRI has maintained its news staff rather than cut reporters and worked hard to get headline-grabbing stories. The station also ran a multimedia ad campaign on sites such as Boston.com to encourage viewers to tune in.

“When we say we’re ‘coverage you can count on,’ we mean it. It’s not just a slogan,” WPRI News Director Joe Abouzeid said in a statement. “It’s a promise to our viewers that they can rely on us to cover the news and stories that matter most to them.”

WJAR remained on top in the morning and at 6 p.m. in November. WPRI said the gap between the two stations at 6 p.m. was the narrowest in 17 years.

In an e-mail, Lisa Churchville, WJAR’s president and general manager, said her station’s ratings suffered the most during the Major League Baseball playoffs, which Leno’s program struggled against. The World Series, which aired on Fox, concluded on Nov. 4.

But, she said, the station “gradually came back” after the playoffs ended, and was winning more viewers by the end of the sweeps period.

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