One month after NBC pulled its programming from WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and launched a new Boston affiliate as a standalone channel, both stations are confronting low ratings, according to new data from Nielsen.
NBC Boston, officially WBTS-TV, debuted Jan. 1, but each of its local newscasts ranked dead last in its time slot for the month among the critical 25- to 54-year-old demographic prized by advertisers.
Its 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news broadcasts in January drew an average of 5,555 and 9,340 viewers, respectively, while the ratings leader for those times, WCVB, drew 26,940 and 38,338 viewers. Some individual NBC Boston news broadcasts even registered a 0.0 rating on Nielsen’s scale, which measures the percentage of televisions in a market area that were tuned in to a particular show.
The primary bright spot for NBC Boston, besides popular programming such as the Golden Globes and NFL football games, is the “Today” show, which ranked first among 25- to 54-year-olds during the weekday 7-to-9 a.m. period.
A spokeswoman said NBC Boston’s low ratings may still be attributable in part to the inertia of viewers’ TV habits, and some lingering difficulty finding the new station on local cable lineups or over-the-air dials. She also blamed the relatively mild weather, which robbed the station of opportunities to boast about its high-tech, radar-equipped weather truck.
NBC, which is owned by Comcast, plans to continue marketing heavily in support of the new station, the spokeswoman said, with the next ads promoting the station’s news chops, in particular its weather vehicle.
But while NBC Boston hopes to slowly catch on with local viewers, history suggests it may continue to struggle.
A similar “start-up” NBC channel created in 2001 by the network — KNTV in the San Francisco area — remains the lowest rated of all the network’s major-market stations, managing just a 0.6 share between 5 a.m. and 2 a.m. NBC Boston is currently the second-lowest, at 0.7.
WHDH, meanwhile, is having trouble replacing the NBC content it lost. For example, substituting local news for the “Today” show caused its ratings share for weekday mornings to drop from 1.7 to 0.8.
The former NBC affiliate also saw ratings for its existing news broadcasts dip somewhat. WHDH’s 6 p.m. news show fell from a first-place 1.8 rating to a second-place 1.3 rating, for example.
And while WHDH’s new 8 p.m. “Family Feud” broadcast is performing well, the station’s average evening prime-time rating throughout the week dropped from 2.5 to 0.8. NBC Boston, with its popular NBC shows, managed a 1.9 share during the same hours.
Paul Magnes, WHDH’s general manager, admitted there had been “some audience erosion,” but stressed that the station is the second-place Boston-area news broadcast in a number of time slots, and number one in several others.
“We like competing as an independent station,” Magnes said.
“We understand that we were an affiliate, and that we no longer have ‘Sunday Night Football’ and ‘The Voice,’ but we’re happy with how we’re doing with what we have.”
He also noted that the loss of the network affiliation means WHDH can sell additional ads in slots that were once occupied by NBC promotions.
However, a third station, ABC affiliate WCVB, believes it is the real winner amid the WHDH-NBC split.
“We thought we would have the advantage of being the stable, dependable station, and one month later, we definitely see that this has benefited us,” said Bill Fine, WCVB’s general manager, noting that since December, his station’s news show has jumped from second to first place during early evenings on weekdays.
Fine said WHDH remains “a very good competitor,” but is struggling without its network affiliation. NBC Boston, meanwhile, “hasn’t been able to capitalize” on its national programming, Fine said.