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Oprah’s goodbye tour lifts WCVB

Newscasts get most viewers but WHDH wins 2 key categories

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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Oprah Winfrey’s month of farewell episodes boosted overall ratings of the signature early evening news broadcast that follows her show on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), but it wasn’t enough to stem losses in some key demographics that advertisers covet.

Winfrey, who announced in 2009 that she would end her daytime talk show at the end of its 25th season, drew 127,600 total viewers this season, up 8 percent from last season, according to numbers released yesterday by Nielsen Co. that were gathered between April 28 and May 25.

This week’s last three episodes in Boston doubled all the other episodes from May and averaged 290,400 viewers.

Winfrey’s show has delivered legions of viewers to WCVB’s 5 p.m. newscast since 1987, when the station began airing the talk show. Although WCVB still won at 5 p.m. with 160,800 total viewers and at 6 p.m. with 187,200 viewers in May, the station lost the news race in the key 18-49 and 25-54 age groups in those newscasts to WHDH-TV (Channel 7).

Among viewers ages 18-49, WHDH led by 6,900 viewers at 5 p.m. and by 10,000 viewers at 6 p.m. And in the 25-54 demographic, WHDH led by 700 viewers at 5 p.m. and by 2,400 viewers at 6 p.m. Both demographics are important because they represent the key groups of viewers that advertisers seek to reach through news programs. Advertisers typically use Nielsen numbers to set rates for TV stations.

Bill Fine, WCVB’s president and general manager, said: “Clearly, for sweep after sweep, viewers choose NewsCenter5 when they need breaking-news coverage and in-depth reporting.’’

Chris Wayland, vice president and general manager of WHDH, was also happy with his station’s performance. “We want to finish first in all news day parts and when that happens, we are obviously very pleased,’’ he said.

Boston viewers may have suffered from Winfrey fatigue and heavy promotion from WCVB for its 5 p.m. pro gram, a top-rated newscast in overall viewers and in key demographics for more than a decade.

“I think too much of a good thing is a bad thing,’’ said Robert Rosenthal, head of the journalism department at Suffolk University. “The news audience is a mix of men and women, and the older male demographic would be somewhat fatigued by the Oprah stories. It’s not her audience.’’

WCVB has also been strongly promoting that it will replace Winfrey’s show Aug. 22 with “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’’

DeGeneres has begun appearing in daily promos for WCVB.

WCVB dominated elsewhere: in early news (4:30 a.m., 5 a.m., 6 a.m.); midday; and at 11 p.m., where it led with 173,800 viewers. And the station claimed the most overall viewers in May.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.