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February 2017 Sweeps: ABC 7 Wins Again, NBC 5 Closes Gap, WGN-TV Sees Growth

The February ratings sweeps period is of great importance to the local television stations, as those ratings results help to set the rates the stations can charge advertisers through the spring months. The 2017 February sweeps took place from February 2nd through March 1st. As is almost always the case, WLS-TV/ABC 7 was the dominant winner overall and for the important late night newscasts. WMAQ-TV/NBC 5 beat WLS-TV in a younger demo at 10:00pm and closed the gap between the two stations overall. WGN-TV continued to dominate in mornings and saw nighttime growth over last year.

In the overall ratings for Chicago households (all ages) for the entire "total day" ratings period of 6:00am-2:00am, which includes national programming along with local programming, WLS-TV is again #1, but the numbers are down from the February period of 2016 -- a trend in traditional network television stations, which is seeing its audience diminish, as well as age. This trend is worsening at a rate faster than most in television would like to openly admit. Last February sweeps, WLS-TV was #1 with a 3.9 rating and 10 share. (Each household rating point equates to approximately 35,000 homes in the Chicago market. Share represents an approximate percentage of televisions in the market tuned to one station.) This February sweeps period, WLS-TV was #1 with 3.4 rating and 9 share. That is a 13% decrease in just one year.

In second place was WMAQ-TV with a 2.2 rating and 6 share, followed by WBBM-TV with a 1.9 rating and 5 share, WGN-TV with a 1.8 rating and 5 share, and WFLD-TV with a 1.3 rating and 4 share.

WLS-TV came in first place in the household ratings with all of its weekday newscasts in middays, afternoons, and evenings for this ratings period.

In the important 10:00pm newscast contest, WLS-TV was far in the lead in the household ratings, earning a 6.3 rating and 12 share. That's the good news. The bad news is that it was down from the February 2016 rating of 7.6 and greatly down from the February 2015 rating of 9.1. Viewership of 10:00pm newscasts is declining at a rapid pace year over year. Even with its diminishing audience, WLS-TV continues its dominance at 10:00pm that has gone on for over 20 years (except some February nights when NBC airs Winter Olympic coverage). WLS-TV remains nearly a full ratings point ahead of the closest competitor.

WMAQ-TV again comes in second place at 10:00pm in households with a 5.4 rating and 10 share (down from a 6.6 rating in February 2016). WBBM-TV is well behind in third place with a 2.9 rating/5 share (up from a 2.8 rating in February 2016). WGN-TV had a 2.6 rating/5 share (down from a 2.7 in February 2016). This is the second consecutive February sweeps period that WGN-TV has had a 10:00pm newscast to compete with the others. While the ratings only place it in a disappointing and distant fourth place, the ratings are still 50% higher than they were in 2015, when it aired syndicated programming at 10:00pm.

In February 2016, the gap between WLS-TV and WMAQ-TV was a full ratings point. It is now 0.9. Two years ago, the gap between the stations was 2.3 ratings points. Even though both stations saw significant decline in viewership these past two years, the tightening of the space between the two stations is seen as a positive by WMAQ-TV staffers.

WMAQ-TV has plenty of other reasons to celebrate, as well. WMAQ-TV won the 10:00pm newscast ratings contest in the advertiser-coveted younger demographic of Adults 25-54.

For Adults 25-54, WMAQ-TV's 10:00pm newscasts in February earned a 2.5 rating, beating WLS-TV's 2.3 rating. (In February 2016, WMAQ-TV had a 3.4 rating and WLS-TV had a 2.9 rating -- an over 70% loss for both stations in this demo in one year.) WGN-TV and WBBM-TV are far behind in this demo, gaining only 1.1 and 1.0 ratings respectively.

For the 9:00pm-10:00pm newscasts, WGN-TV once again dominated over its only other rival, WFLD-TV. In the all ages demo, WGN-TV pulled in a 4.0 rating/7 share, doubling that of WFLD-TV's 2.0 rating/3 share. The year over year viewership losses in the 9:00pm hour were much slighter, though. In February 2016, WGN-TV had a 4.3 rating and WFLD-TV had a 2.1 rating. The one year ratings loss was not nearly as bad as what stations are experiencing at 10:00pm. For Adults 25-54, WGN-TV beat WFLD-TV 1.7 to 1.1 -- the same ratings as February 2016.

One area where WGN-TV is very pleased is in its prime time hours of 7:00pm-9:00pm. In February 2016, these hours aired the low-rated CW Network programming, but as of September 1st of last year, WGN-TV dropped CW programming and became an independent station free of any network affiliation constraints and forced programming. In February 2017 compared to February 2016, WGN-TV saw an increase of 19% in household ratings (1.9, up from 1.6) and 11% in Adults 25-54 ratings (1.0, up from 0.9). WGN-TV's newfound ability to broadcast more local sports games and specials in prime time helped with that year over year increase.

For 4:00pm, 5:00pm, and 6:00pm newscasts, WLS-TV is still #1 in the households (all ages) category and in most younger demographics. In some cases, WLS-TV is over 2 household ratings points ahead of WMAQ-TV, the closest competitor. WGN-TV has one area in afternoons in which can brag, in that its 4:00pm newscast was the only one that increased in viewership (13%) over February 2016.

WLS-TV wins in midday newscasts in the household ratings with a 2.5 rating and 9 share, edging out WGN-TV with a 2.2 rating/8 share.

In the early morning hours for the all-ages demo, WLS-TV wins yet again, but only for the 4:30am half-hour newscast which had just a 1.5 rating/1 share. The rest of the morning news hours belong to WGN-TV. The highly entertaining "WGN Morning News" is #1 in the all ages/households ratings and the Adult 25-54 demo for the 5:00am, 6:00am, 7:00am, 8:00am, and 9:00am hours. WGN-TV has been #1 for these time periods for Adults 25-54 for the past six years.

Although feeling a bit ancient by 21st century standards, where ratings data is now rapidly available to stations and networks, the television industry continues to hold four of these sweeps periods each year. The months are: February, May, July, and November. The next sweeps period will take place from April 27th through May 24th.

All of the above television measurement data comes Nielsen, based on Live+Same Day ratings from the February 2017 ratings period.

The ABC 7 10:00pm news team

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