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MBPT Spotlight: Broadcast Evening News Telecasts All Grew Their Audiences This Season

Despite the greatly exaggerated reports over the years that the broadcast evening news daypart was on the demise, it is still alive and doing very well from a ratings standpoint. Ironically, however, the fact has gone somewhat underreported—the trade press and other media outlets give the evening news telecasts very little coverage compared to the morning shows, late-night and even the daytime soaps.

Media buyers know it as a place where the clients who want to reach a bit of an older audience can buy commercial time at a fraction of the cost of broadcast primetime—30% to 40% cheaper for a 30-second spot in the average primetime entertainment show. 

And while the big battle for viewers between ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today show in the mornings has been receiving continuous media coverage, those networks’ half-hour evening news shows are drawing virtually the same number of 18-49 viewers and viewers in the 25-54 “news” demo as the morning shows.

The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams for the 2013-14 season averaged 1.71 million viewers 18-49 and ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer averaged 1.46 million viewers in the demo. Today averaged 1.68 million and GMA averaged 1.55 million. In the 25-54 demo, NBC Nightly News averaged 2.3 million compared to 2.1 million for Today, while ABC World News averaged 2.1 million compared to 2.2 for GMA.

Overall, the three networks’ evening news shows combined, which also includes TheCBS Evening Newswith ScottPelley, averaged nearly 24.5 million viewers per night during their half-hour 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. nightly telecasts.

Unlike in the morning, where GMA now tops Today in overall viewership, in the evening news daypart, NBC Nightly News is still king, averaging 9.25 million viewers this past season, compared to 8.15 for ABC’s World News and 7.07 million for the CBS Evening News.

The NBC Nightly News is also the viewer leader by slight margins in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos, averaging 1.71 viewers and 2.3 million viewers, respectively. World News this most recent season averaged 1.46 million 18-49 viewers per telecast and 2.11 million in the 25-54 demo. CBS Evening News averaged 1.19 million 18-49 viewers and 1.74 million 25-54 viewers.

The three networks cumulatively in the half-hour averaged 4.36 million viewers 18-49 and 6.15 million viewers 25-54. Buyers agree that most of their clients who advertise in the evening news half-hour tend to buy all three networks.

Of course, much like the morning news shows, the bulk of the audience is 55-plus for all three networks. Some 17 million of the nearly 25 million total viewers of the three networks’ evening news shows are 55-plus. Priced reasonably by the networks, it is still a desirable half-hour for advertisers who want to reach the approximate 8 million viewers under 55 each night.

Also, lots of the advertisers in categories such as pharmaceuticals, insurance, financial and automotive—the largest among the evening news daypart—want to reach that 55- or even 65-plus audience with many of their brands.

While the evening news daypart has been losing viewers steadily over the past few decades, during the 2013-14 season, each of the networks’ evening news telecasts grew in viewers. Overall this past season, the three networks cumulatively grew their viewership by 1.44 million—not a huge amount but a gain nonetheless. Some might point to the Olympics on NBC for the reason why its Nightly News telecast grew by almost 600,000 viewers per night, but the Olympics was only on two weeks and wouldn’t have that great an impact on nine months’ worth of nightly ratings numbers.

Aging Gratefully

The evening newscasts didn’t age up much this past season with ABC’s World News and NBC’s Nightly News both averaging a median age audience of 63, same as for the 2012-13 season. The CBS EveningNews did age up one year, moving from 63 to 64.

As for the recent announcement that David Muir would be succeeding Diane Sawyer as anchor and managing editor of ABC’s World News this September, that move seems to not be based on ratings so much as on the desire to make a switch to a younger anchor—along with the 69-year-old Sawyer’s desire to get out of the day-to-day evening news pressure cooker.

This past season with Sawyer at the helm, World News increased its 25-54 demo audience by 400,000 viewers over the previous season, while its 18-49 demo audience remained flat.

In addition to allowing Sawyer to work on longer-range news specials, ABC News is making a move similar to the one NBC did when it replaced 63-year-old late-night veteran Jay Leno earlier this year with 39-year-old Jimmy Fallon as Tonight Show host. (Muir is 41.) This would also follow NBC’s move back in 2004 to replace then 64-year-old NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw with then 45-year-old Brian Williams.

The move has worked out well so far for NBC in late night, as the Tonight Show audience under Fallon has gotten younger. But the age of the news anchor on the network’s evening news telecasts over the years has not seemed influence the age of the viewers who watch very much.

In 2000, the median age audience of NBC’s Nightly News telecast with then-60-year-old Tom Brokaw as anchor was 58. This past season with 55-year-old Brian Williams it was 63. The median age audience of the CBS Evening News anchored by then 68-year-old Dan Rather was 60. This past season with 53-year-old Scott Pelley as anchor, it was 64.

But as old as the median age audience may be, if the networks continue to price the evening new telecasts attractively, there is still a large enough mass audience of younger folks, along with an even larger mass audience of older folks who certain categories want to target, to make the daypart very relevant as an advertiser buy.