'NBC Nightly News' -- Like All Evening Newscasts -- Remains on Stable Ground

It's been a week of many media reports that, among other
things, are attempting to paint a picture of NBC's news division in trouble,
with the Today show's decline in viewers and ABC breathing down its neck.
The ratings, however, don't back that up.

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
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

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

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,

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.