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Replacing 'Oprah' An Exercise in Patience

No one thought replacing Oprah would be easy.

Across the country, Oprah time slots are down significantly in households and the key daytime demographic of women 25-54.

But if TV station executive aren’t worried— yet—it’s because the replacement programming costs so much less, and the drop-off was expected.

The three syndicated shows that most frequently replaced CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah are Warner Bros.’ Ellen, Sony’s Dr. Oz and CTD’s Dr. Phil. Many stations also have filled Oprah’s slot with local newscasts or locally produced programs. Allbritton’s WJLA Washington gave its plum Oprah slot to Warner Bros’ Anderson, and last week the station renewed the show for another year.

Following the November sweeps, Ellen seems to be the most successful replacement of the three. Ellen took over for Oprah in nine markets. In November, Ellen averaged a 4.1 rating/11 share in households in overnight weighted metered markets, according to Nielsen, compared to Oprah’s 6.9/16 last November, a ratings retention of 64%. Among women 25-54, Ellen is retaining 69% of Oprah’s number.

On Hearst’s WCVB Boston at 4 p.m., Ellen averaged a 3.8/10 compared to Oprah’s 5.6/16 last year. That’s down, but WCVB’s newscasts are up across the board. This November, WCVB’s 5 p.m. news averaged a 6.3/14 compared to last year’s 5.6/13.

Ellen is less of a lead-in than Oprah, but that was expected,” says Bill Fine, WCVB vice president and general manager. “Last year was Oprah’s final year, and there was so much hype. This year, we swept every newscast all day long. I haven’t seen a flow study, but I’m guessing we are keeping a better percentage of the smaller audience that’s flowing from Ellen, and that might have brought in some new viewers. What I’m really looking for is growth, and each month Ellen has grown.”

Sony’s Dr. Oz, which won the most Oprah time slots at 23, has the lowest ratings retention of the three series. In November, Oz averaged a 3.1/8 compared to Oprah’s 6.7/14 in those markets—a retention of 46% among households. Among women 25-54, Oz is retaining 37%.

Oz is doing okay,” says Mike Devlin, general manager of Belo’s WFAA Dallas. “It’s down a lot from Oprah, but we knew that was going to happen. We are a little disappointed in it as a news lead-in.”

In Dallas, Oz averaged a 1.8/5 in households in November, compared to Oprah’s 4.5/12 last November. That’s having a downward effect on WFAA’s 5 p.m. newscast: This November, the program is averaging a 2.9/7 compared to last November’s 4.4/10, a 34% drop.

In Los Angeles, where KABC acquired Oz from Fox’s KTTV and now airs it at 3 p.m. in place of Oprah, Oz is down compared to Oprah as well, but the station’s 4 p.m. newscast is mostly holding up. Last November, Oprah averaged a 5.4/15 on KABC at 3 p.m.; this November, Oz averaged a 2.1/6. At 4 p.m., the newscast is averaging a 3.4/9 this November compared to last year’s 3.7/9, a full retention of Oprah’s audience share.

Finally, Dr. Phil replaced Oprah in four markets and is retaining 58% of Oprah’s rating at a 3.3/8 compared to Oprah’s 5.7/13.

TV stations in six of the top 10 markets—ABC’s WABC New York, WLS Chicago, WPVI Philadelphia, and KGO San Francisco; Cox’s WSB Atlanta; and Belo’s KHOU Houston—replaced Oprah with newscasts, or a locally produced show in WLS’ case. In all cases, the locally produced newscast or show is under-performing Oprah, but the stations plan to remain patient.

In Oprah’s former 9 a.m. slot, WLS Chicago runs Windy City Live, which averaged a 2.8/10 in November. That’s much less than Oprah’s 6.2/21 average last November, but it’s enough to keep WLS competitive in the time period.

Says Emily Barr, WLS president and general manager: “I’m delighted with Windy City Live. It’s a great-looking show, it’s got high energy and it’s been well-received by viewers. We feel very comfortable with where the numbers are, and they are growing.”

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