'NBC Nightly News' -- Like All Evening Newscasts -- Remains on Stable Ground
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/29/2012 2:16:55 PM
While ABC's Good Morning America has caught up to Today in total viewers, even drawing a larger audience during a few weeks, a check of the most recent broadcast television season Nielsen ratings data shows NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams still with slightly more than 1 million more viewers than ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. And that's about the same lead it had entering the 2011-12 season.
NBC Nightly News this season has averaged 8.67 million viewers per telecast, while ABC World News averaged 7.64. During the course of the season, NBC lost 430,000 viewers from the previous season, while ABC lost 380,000.
Meanwhile, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley gained 240,000 viewers this season and is now averaging 6.21 million viewers per telecast, still in third place, but up since Pelley took over as anchor from Katie Couric.
One downside for CBS is that since Pelley took over, nearly all of the increase in viewers has come from the 55-plus demo, and the median age audience went up by two years to 62.2. The CBS telecast, however, still has a slightly younger median age than the NBC and ABC evening news telecasts.
Overall, the three network evening news half-hours combined an average total of 22.5 million viewers, down 590,000 from the 23.1 million they averaged for the 2010-11 season.
That's still plenty for advertisers to tap into, regardless of how old the audience skews. The combined networks in that half-hour do draw about 4.4 million viewers 18-49, with NBC averaging 1.66 million per night, ABC averaging 1.45 million and CBS at 1.24 million. Again, not bad numbers for a half-hour of TV, and advertisers are still willing to plunk down cash to reach this sizable audience.
Granted, the bulk of nightly news advertising targets older viewers with categories like pharmaceuticals, financial and luxury auto, but NBC research on what it calls the "Alpha Boomers" segment among adults 55-64 shows that they are as receptive to buying smartphones, tablets and other tech categories as are millennials. And that same research shows that Alpha Boomers are not locked into being loyal to any product they've used over the years. So smart marketers could be wise to experiment in the nightly newscasts and see what happens.
How do media agency research execs view the evening news scenario? Brad Adgate, senior VP, research at Horizon Media, and Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/program research at Carat offered comments on the big picture.
Can CBS Evening News make up any significant ground on NBC and ABC going forward?
Brad Adgate: I think CBS has a long way to the top and it will take some time to catch, since getting people to change newscasts is a relatively slow process. It took Walter Cronkite five years to catch NBC's [Chet] Huntley and [David] Brinkley in the 1960s. CBS has been third for about 20 years so it has its work cut out. That said, Scott Pelley is a real professional and a throwback to earlier news anchors, so I wouldn't rule it out at some point.
Billie Gold: I don't think CBS can make up significant ground. The reason it gained some versus last year was that ratings when Katie Couric was at the helm really dipped, and when Scott Pelley came aboard some felt he brought back a bit of news integrity to the telecast. So some viewers returned, or new viewers gave him a chance. Ratings may or may not increase slightly over time, but not anything significant of note.
Can ABC World News challenge NBC Nightly News or is the scenario in the evening different than in the morning?
Adgate: I don't think ABC can catch NBC in evening news anytime soon. As long as Brian Williams is the [NBC] anchor, and he is relatively young still, NBC should be tops in the time period.
Gold: Anything is possible, but it will take a long time before it happens. NBC Nightly News still has a nice lead over ABC, however, NBC's weakening primetime and morning is hurting its news telecasts as a whole.
Is there a place for any younger-skewing advertising in the evening news telecasts or is it going to continue to be pharmaceuticals, financials and luxury cars?
Adgate: I'm not optimistic that broadcast evening news is going to be able to get young viewers. They just don't watch the newscast on television, getting their news from other sources, including the Internet. On top of that, many of them are not even home when the evening news is on, or if they are, they are busy with other activities such as eating, talking to their children, etc.
Gold: I think those three ad categories will continue to dominate the evening news telecasts because advertisers are increasingly aware that people in the younger demographic bucket are more likely to take to the Internet or watch late news shows on cable such as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert to get their news.
The news divisions of broadcast networks, in many ways, are thought of as the face of the networks. So is it probable that despite the declining viewership, the evening news telecasts will be around for some time to come?
Adgate: I agree that news has a historical significance to the branding of the broadcast networks, dating back generations. No matter how antiquated it may seem, the evening news telecasts are still a sacred part of a broadcast network.
Gold: Definitely. They are not only the face of the networks, but they lend a sense of integrity to the networks. And they are also a profit center despite declining ratings.
Newscast viewership, in general, is declining on cable. The Fox News personality- and opinion-driven shows are doing OK, but straight news reporting on networks like CNN are losing viewers steadily. Is that because people can now get news as it happens?
Adgate: I do think the cable newscasts are down because of the ubiquity of the news across multiple platforms. News and information is the most common radio genre. Another factor is these news networks provide more opinion than news and there could be a fatigue factor in that.
Gold: Exactly. We are in a world where 50% of cellphone users now have smartphones and the news is at their fingertips at the press of a button. Plus, at any given time, we can log onto our computers and get the news from a variety of sites and sources.
Do you think the networks are making money on the evening news telecasts?
Adgate: If the networks are making any money, it's not a lot. They have shut down numerous news bureaus around the world over the past decade and they can't charge a premium ad rate with a median age audience hovering around 60 and declining viewership. Right now they are more prestige for the networks than anything else. But I don't think the broadcast network newscasts are going the way of the soap operas, even though the audience trends are similar.
Gold: Due to their relatively low production costs, all news shows should be profit centers for the networks, especially the morning shows, which is why they keep expanding their hours.
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