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While NBC affiliates’ optimism toward primetime is typically more guarded than a Saudi billionaire, the stations are slowly starting to let their enthusiasm for the highest-profile daypart show. There have been glimmers of primetime rebound in recent years, but not this far into October.
“I think it’s safe to say it’s a successful start,” says Jordan Wertlieb, NBC affiliates board chairman. “It’s also safe to say it’s early. But I think the affiliates and the network are optimistic and realistic about where things are. Things are improving, and that’s a good thing.”
Numerous NBC affiliates around the country have historically either clung to a late-news title, or relinquished it to a competitor, based in large part on the network’s failure to turn out primetime hits. This year may be different, with The Voice a certifiable star, rookie sitcoms pulling decent numbers and Revolution off to a sanguine start. “I’m very pleased with NBC’s primetime performance,” says Hank Price, president and general manager of WXII Greensboro. “Somehow we’ve still managed to win late news [over the years], but now our ratings are through the roof, especially on Monday and Tuesday. It’s very encouraging.”
Affiliates give credit to NBC for executing its strategy of building a night at a time, with The Voice in particular pacing NBC to Monday and Tuesday wins. WDIV Detroit is up 31% year-to-date in primetime household ratings compared to 2011, and 52% in viewers 25-54. It makes a massive difference in a frightfully competitive market such as Motown. “It’s the first time in probably four years I can really sense a genuine feeling that things are getting better,” says Marla Drutz, WDIV vice president and GM.
Another key piece of the strategy is fixing the 10 p.m. (ET) hour, which serves up viewers for stations’ late local news. Wertlieb says the plan is a longer-term one. “Revolution is a pleasant addition to 10 p.m., but clearly this is going to be a process,” he says. “You have to have success in the 8 and 9 p.m. hours, then eventually more sampling and success in the 10 p.m. hour. I think we’re making progress, but you always would like more audience lead-in to 11 p.m.”
There are other issues to contend with, such as Today’s continued slump. But the affiliates are tickled to seemingly be climbing out of the primetime cellar. “The overall trend is, the patient is improving dramatically,” says Drutz. “We are extremely appreciative of NBC.”
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