June 23, 2017

ABC News Dethrones NBC in Crucial Ratings Race

One year after a significant reordering of television’s morning shows swept ABC into first place in the ratings race, the same thing might be happening in the evening.

ABC’s 6:30 p.m. newscast, “World News With Diane Sawyer,” bested “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” among 25-to-54-year-old viewers last week, ending a winning streak of almost five years by NBC and rekindling interest in the once-predictable ratings competition.

NBC remained on top among total viewers. But ABC’s win was significant because television ads on news programs are bought and sold based on the coveted demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds. Ms. Sawyer has been seeking to snap Mr. Williams’s streak in that category ever since she took over “World News” from her colleague Charles Gibson in 2009.

ABC said the victory was its first since the week of Nov. 17, 2008, shortly after the election of President Obama.

It was a narrow victory: 38,000 viewers in the relevant age group separated the two shows. Partly for that reason, people at NBC News cautioned that the results could be a one-time aberration. Last spring and summer, though, those same people saw their prized morning show, “Today,” fall to second place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America,” first in total viewers and then in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic. The first time “G.M.A.” won, the gap was just 31,000 total viewers. Now its streak is nearly a year old, and it wins every week by an average of 650,000 viewers.

In the evenings, “World News” and the third-place “CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley” have shown some momentum this year at the expense of “NBC Nightly News,” which Mr. Williams has anchored since 2004. “This is just one week, so it is clearly too early to talk about a sea change in the evening,” said Amy Mitchell, the director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “But if you look at it alongside the larger NBC News narrative, this is one more sign of a chipping-away at their long-dominant news ratings.”

The battle between NBC News, a unit of Comcast, and ABC News, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, has been evident at other hours of the day as well. Some at NBC were pleased when ABC’s late-night program “Nightline” was moved an hour later to make way for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in January; some at ABC were equally pleased when Mr. Williams’s prime-time newsmagazine, “Rock Center,” was canceled in May. (Its last broadcast was on June 21.)

At both networks’ news divisions, hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue is on the line every year. While that represents just a tiny fraction of the total revenues of their parent companies, the news divisions are expected to post a profit and show growth, which is not easy at a time of stepped-up competition on television and online.

As is the custom in these bitterly contested ratings competitions, NBC’s news release about the 6:30 ratings on Tuesday made no mention of ABC’s gains; it simply excluded the 25-to-54-year-old viewership totals and emphasized that “Nightly News” had been winning among total viewers for years.

For NBC, which is still struggling to right itself in the mornings, a more permanent loss to ABC in the evenings would be doubly embarrassing. Turning around the “Today” show has been identified as the top task for Deborah Turness, a British news executive who will start as president of NBC News next Monday. The ratings results last week suggest that shoring up “Nightly News” will be a priority as well.

Among total viewers, “Nightly News” had an average of 7.54 million last week, besting “World News” by about a quarter of a million. Over all, ratings for the big three nightly newscasts have held relatively steady for the last couple of years after decades of slow and steady erosion. About 22.1 million people watched one of the three programs on an average weeknight in 2012, down 2 percent from an unusually strong 2011.

The ratings, of course, bestow bragging rights upon the best-performing network. On Tuesday, the executive producer of “World News,” Michael Corn, bought pizza for his staff ahead of a more elaborate newsroom celebration planned for later in the week. In a statement, Mr. Corn thanked the viewing audience and added: “We have a lot more work to do. We’re just getting started.”

In a twist that television industry gawkers immediately homed in on, the victory was shared by Ms. Sawyer and one of her regular fill-ins, David Muir. That was because Mr. Muir substituted for Ms. Sawyer three nights last week — the same three nights, it turned out, that ABC beat NBC in the all-important ratings demographic. Mr. Williams prevailed, barely, on the two nights that Ms. Sawyer was at work.

Mr. Muir, who usually anchors “20/20” and the weekend editions of “World News,” and George Stephanopoulos, who hosts “G.M.A.” and moderates “This Week,” are widely seen in the industry as the two most likely successors to Ms. Sawyer. For now, that is purely theoretical; Ms. Sawyer, who became the anchor at the end of 2009, has given no signal that she plans to step down soon.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/business/media/abcs-evening-news-bests-nbc-in-coveted-age-group.html?partner=rss&emc=rss