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
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Driven by a flurry of
international news events like the Arab Spring uprising, tsunami disaster in
Japan and the killing of Osama bin Laden, every sector of television news
gained audience in 2011, including a 5% uptick among the three network news
outlets, their first sign of growth in a decade, according to the 2012 State of
the News Media report by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in
Journalism released Monday.

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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