PEJ: Network News Audience Grew in 2011 for First Time in a Decade
International events, leadership changes drove increases, but gains may be short-lived
By Andrea Morabito -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/19/2012 12:01:00 AM
Broken down by daypart, average evening news viewership increased 4.5% across the three networks, representing a gain of 972,000 viewers over 2010, according to the study. Growth at each of the programs was inversely proportional to their ranking, with ratings leader NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams increasing the least (2.9%), ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer climbing 5.3% to remain at number two, while the CBS Evening News, where Scott Pelley replaced Katie Couric as anchor in June, grew the most (5.8%).
Total growth was slightly greater in the mornings, where an average of 13.1 million people watched either NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America or the now-defunct CBS Early Show, an increase of 5.4% over the prior year. It was the first time the audience for morning news grew in seven years, according to the study. GMA had the most growth (up 10% to 4.8 million viewers), Today ticked up 2% to 5.4 million viewers and The Early Show (which re-launched as CBS This Morning in January 2012) was flat at 2.9 million viewers.
But the report cautioned that the increased audience may not be sustained through 2012, saying that "[m]uch of the growth may be short-lived, a function of big, visually oriented news stories rather than change in habits."
The viewership gains were also not met with equal improvement in advertising revenue at the network news divisions, where PEJ estimates revenue grew between 1% and 2.5%. It reports that both ABC and NBC News both benefited from broadcast ad revenue increases at their networks, while NBC News, whose non-news primetime continued to slump in 2011, drew its income from its cable news channels MSNBC and CNBC.
Besides a busy news year, viewership gains could also have been driven by changes behind the scenes and in front of the camera, with the study noting that "the three network news divisions, which for decades were hard to tell apart except for the faces on air, began to distinguish themselves from one another in what they defined as news."
New senior leadership was installed at ABC News (Ben Sherwood) and CBS News (Jeff Fager and David Rhodes) and all three evening news programs changed executive producers (Michael Corn at World News, Patricia Shevlin at Evening News and Patrick Burkey at Nightly News). In the mornings, Ann Curry replaced Meredith Vieira on Today, GMA added Josh Elliot and Lara Spencer and CBS overhauled its morning lineup to the team of Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill – all of which are sure to have further ratings implications in 2012.
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