According to rep firm Katz Television Group Programming Research, the expansion of local news into the 4 p.m.-5 p.m. time period has been pretty much of a coin flip, ratingswise.
From 1994 to last May, according to KTVG director of Programming Research Lisa Hollaender, less than half of the newscasts added improved on their time period ratings in the key 25-54 demo, while about the same number underperformed, with the rest about even with previous early fringe programming. Not surprising, given Oprah's powerhouse performance in the 4-5 news lead-in slot on many ABC affiliates, 80% of the stations that expanded news into 4-5 p.m. were NBC and CBS affiliates.
The majority of expansions came in the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons. It's probably no coincidence that that is the same time period in which Oprah announced, then unannounced the end of her long-running talker.
"The 4-5 p.m. time period has not proven to be the optimal place to expand the news block, Hollaender and Katz conclude.
The same study concluded that 7 p.m. was the least utilized daypart for news expansion. That's because most stations air lucrative prime access game and magazine shows. The majority of those stations that did expand into 7 p.m. probably regretted it. Two thirds suffered ratings declines, that they were far greater than the gains of the third that improved.
Hollaender's conclusion: If you don't have a strong prime access entertainment show, it can be tempting, but given the results, stations would be advised to think twice about expanding news into access.