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The Boston Globe

Business

WBZ-TV revamps as competitors pick up viewers

BRIAN FEULNER FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Channel 4 news anchors Jack Williams and Lisa Hughes now sit at a blue and silver anchor desk.

Boston’s oldest television station, WBZ-TV (Channel 4), has undergone a sleek makeover.

This month, officials unveiled a new $750,000 set, a redesigned logo, and other changes as part of an effort to make the station more distinctive in a market where other channels have carved out an identity.

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“How do you contemporize a legacy television station?’’ said WBZ general manager Ed Piette. “What we have here is no different than Cadillac, which was born in the 1920s, which is still very 21st century.’’

Piette said the new set was long overdue. Gone are the sunny yellow elements the station had used for the past four years. Early evening and late news anchors Jack Williams and Lisa Hughes now sit at a blue and silver anchor desk illuminated by rear panels that feature well-known Boston scenes such as the State House and the Zakim Bridge.

The new set - the first overhaul in a decade - pops with its mix of soft blues and steel colors. It is almost double the size of the former set and has 18 high-definition monitors, including two 103-inch monitors that weigh 500 pounds each, which help create a more dynamic broadcast.

“Our look and our feel was getting a little long in the tooth,’’ said Piette.

Change is also happening off camera. The station has downplayed its light-hearted social media franchises such as “Conversation Nation’’ and “Declare Your Curiosity’’ - which asked viewers for story tips - in favor of more hard news and investigative reports that its parent CBS news division is known for.

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The makeover comes as the station has wrestled with a ratings slide in recent years, particularly during the late news time slot. Higher ratings means higher ad rates and revenues.

In the most recent November ratings period, WCVB (Channel 5) continued to build its lead during the lucrative 11 p.m. news race with 191,000 viewers compared with WBZ’s 125,000, according to research firm Nielsen. Two years ago, WBZ was on top with 176,700 viewers compared with WCVB’s 143,300.

Media analysts said WBZ has been going through an evolution since 1995, when the station switched its network affiliation to CBS after decades with NBC. Viewers who turned to WBZ found that popular shows such as morning program “Today’’ show had moved to WHDH. At the time, CBS primetime shows were trailing in ratings to NBC and that shrunk audiences leading into WBZ’s late newscasts.

The station also had several name changes - from “News 4 New England’’ and “WBZ 4 News’’ and “CBS 4’’ - which may have caused brand confusion.

Meanwhile, WBZ’s competitors established their own identities, with WHDH going with fast-paced news with flying graphics and WCVB taking a conservative news approach with a bench of longtime reporters. WCVB emerged as the ratings leader.

That has left WBZ “somewhere in the middle,’’ said Susan Walker, a Boston University broadcast professor.

“They have a reliable reputation, and they have a history in this town,’’ said Walker. “They should brand themselves as WBZ and not try to brand themselves as CBS’s Boston affiliate. I am surprised that they constantly feel they need to remind people that they are the CBS affiliate.’’

One reason is that CBS is the most-watched network in the country, thanks to its highly rated TV dramas and comedies. WBZ’s new logo highlights CBS’s iconic “eye’’ and is being featured prominently in station promos.

For WBZ, the makeover is also targeting viewers who are tuning in on their laptops and smartphones. The new set’s sharper and clearer high-definition look translates better on various devices, said Piette.

“You have to be right there with them,’’ Piette said. “Otherwise, you’re a model T.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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