The battle for early morning supremacy between ABC's Good
Morning America and NBC's Today gets a lot of coverage, but for
media agencies and their advertiser clients, it doesn't so much matter who's No.1.
What counts is that the daypart maintains its solid overall audience. That's
because most advertisers who buy broadcast early morning buy all three
networks, much like they do in the evening news daypart.
"From an advertiser viewpoint, all three shows combined
[including CBS This Morning]
draw anywhere from 10 million to 12 million viewers each morning and that is as
good as a better-than-average broadcast primetime show does," says Brad Adgate,
senior VP of research at Horizon Media. "It is a quality audience, maybe even
more upscale than primetime."
The pecking order might change, but viewers are not
abandoning broadcast morning as much as they are broadcast primetime. "Audience
erosion overall in the morning has not been as large because there are more
people up early and watching morning news shows than ever," Adgate says. "Of
course there is more fragmentation with cable news shows, but the overall
audience is still there."
Of course, the broadcast networks themselves don't see it
that way, since they remain in a fierce battle to be at the top of the list.
Unfortunately for CBS, it remains, at least so far, a two-horse race; changing the
morning show name from The Early Show to CBS This Morning earlier
this year and bringing in some new hosts hasn't yet led to any real upward
movement in viewers. However, short of giving back the two hours to affiliates,
CBS is going to continue to try to make the show work. It is not hugely
expensive to produce, and even in third place, the network can make a profit selling
advertising, even at a lower rate than the direct competition.
The battle between GMA and Today has, of
course, been tight for decades. This past spring, GMA pulled closer in
total viewers to No.1 Today than it had been in some 16 years. Then,
during May sweeps, GMA wound up drawing
more viewers than Today for a time,
which tightened the battle that much more.
Today still won
the 2011-12 broadcast regular season, which ended in late May, but GMA
narrowed the gap significantly. For 2011-12, according to Nielsen data, Today averaged 5.33 million viewers
compared to GMA's 4.93 million, a gap of only 400,000, which is half of
what Today was leading by at the end of the 2010-11 season. The two
shows were in a virtual dead heat in viewers over 55, each pulling in about 2.7
million per show. But GMA managed to cut the gap among viewers in demos
18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. While Today lost 79,000 viewers in the 18-34
demo, 180,000 in the 18-49 demo and 200,000 in the 25-54 demo, GMA
gained 53,000 in the 18-34 demo, 140,000 in the 18-49 demo and 140,000 in the
In the process, while GMA maintained its median age
audience of 57, Today jumped up a year to 55.
Meanwhile, CBS This Morning remains mired in a still-distant
third place. Its attempt to revitalize the show by renaming it and bringing in
Charlie Rose and Gayle King as cohosts alongside Erica Hill has not yet caught
on with viewers in the nearly six months since the Jan. 9 changeover. While it
was still The Early Show this past season, it averaged 2.3 million
viewers-the same number it has been averaging now as CBS This Morning.
However, viewer demos have shuffled a tiny bit, and the show lost some younger
viewers while increasing its 55-plus viewership. The show's median age audience
in six months has increased by a year to 58. From the 2010-11 season to this
one, viewership of The Early Show dropped by about 300,000 per show-not
so bad, but also not a trend that will help lift the show out of the cellar.
Adgate believes that some of the stagnation in viewership at
CBS This Morning is a result of the very public battle between Today and
GMA, which has gotten both shows lots of publicity.
"CBS has to be given credit for at least trying to do
something to improve its viewership numbers in the daypart," Adgate says. "They
have done some things in other news dayparts like Sunday morning and evening
news that have worked in picking up more viewers, so they do have some chips."
Moving forward, the battle back and forth between Today
and GMA is going to get more interesting come August when NBC televises
two weeks of the Summer Olympics from London.
"The Olympics are going to give the Today show a much needed shot in the
arm," Adgate says. "Today will get a
10%-15% increase in viewership and ratings during the Games. The Today show
hosts will do it live from London and interview all the Olympians and there
will be a lot of viewer interest. The question will be what happens after the
Olympics and heading into fall and the new season. Will Today be able to
hold on to those viewers? If not, while Matt Lauer has a new contract, there
could be some other changes. Broadcast morning is a personality driven daypart."