Jay Leno in Little Rock: Not Bad for KARK at 10 pm

Jay Leno

The Leno Effect: Not terrible in Little Rock

The big media news today is no doubt the disaster that has been NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show,” which seems to be coming to head in the least surprising way possible. The bottom line: NBC’s experiment with Leno in primetime is a spectacular failure, forcing the third-place network to contemplate putting the former late-night king back in late night while somehow honoring its commitments with new “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien, himself a ratings disappointment.

Good luck with all of that.

But why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth? Leno’s primetime numbers are performing about where NBC expected — only about 5 million viewers per night. But a large audience wasn’t necessarily part of NBC’s plan. The plan was to produce a cheap nightly show that would draw a guaranteed audience, one that could easily be sold around and bring profits to the network.

The fatal flaw? Local affiliates need a strong ratings lead-in to their late local news, which in many cases is the most significant source of revenue those affiliates have. Leno’s low ratings, they complained, were driving viewers to other networks — or cable — where they were less likely to come back to the NBC affiliate’s late news.

In larger, metered TV markets — markets where the previous night’s ratings are delivered to affiliates the next morning — affiliate station general managers were watching their late news ratings drop like a brick. And many began complaining to NBC. Consider the scene in Baltimore a few months ago:

Baltimore may be called Charm City, but for WBAL — the local television station that carries NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show” — there isn’t much to smile about lately.

Usually, WBAL is in a neck-and-neck race for viewers against arch rival WJZ. But since NBC debuted “The Jay Leno Show” in prime time five weeks ago, the station’s 11 p.m. newscast — where silver-haired Rod Daniels’ 25-year run as anchor is the longest in Baltimore history — has been shellacked in the ratings. Now WBAL is a distant second.

And there was this from an NBC affiliate owner in Detroit:

Alan Frank, who runs two NBC stations including the affiliate in Detroit, told the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable over the weekend: “The handwriting is on the wall. The only question is what [NBC] is going to do about it.”

Here in Little Rock, NBC affiliate KARK-TV, Channel 4, has been running third place among most daily newscasts, including at 10 p.m. What’s the Leno Effect been like for the Nexstar Broadcasting-owned station? Advance numbers from latest November ratings book, which came out in late December, might surprise you.

It shows KARK, while still in third place, gaining audience at 10 p.m., going from a household rating/share of 5/11 in November 2008 to 6/14 last November. In fact, KARK logged bigger share gains at 10 p.m. than any of its local competitors, which each saw about a 1-point bump. Some demographic numbers (men and women 25-54) were also up slightly, as were all but one competitor.

In fact, this last November ratings period almost returned KARK to its November 2007 10 p.m. ratings level of about 6/13.

And there was another surprise looking at estimates for NBC primetime (7-10 p.m.) performance locally. Those numbers were up slightly as well, going from a 4/7 in November 2008 to 5/8 last November.

No doubt both NBC in prime and KARK at 10 p.m. have have seen stronger ratings in the past. And there are myriad factors that go into ratings, not to mention that these numbers are estimates based on paper surveys of only a sampling of the local TV audience. Still, it’s the best evidence we have, and it suggests that the Leno Effect might not be such a bad thing in Little Rock.

More on November Ratings in Little Rock

KATV, KTHV Still Tops in Latest News Ratings

More on NBC, Leno and Conan

Blame Jay Leno – Gawker

Late-Night Shift Sinking, NBC Wants Leno Back in Old Slot – New York Times

An Open Letter to NBC – Videogum

(Disclosure: I appear regularly on KTHV-TV, Channel 11, a Gannett-owned CBS affiliate that is a direct competitor to KARK and other local TV affiliates in the Little Rock market.)

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