The Unsung Broadcast Evening News Daypart Saw All Three Networks Increase Viewership This Season

The broadcast networks' early morning and late-night dayparts got lots of media coverage during the recently completed season. The evening news daypart, however, has gotten about as much love as a series put on hiatus.

Perhaps that's because, looking at the season as a whole, there's been no Kardashian-like combustion: There were no changes in the pecking order of the networks, nor any announcements of pending changes in the news anchors. However, the daypart that most advertisers stay away from-because it caters to older viewers-has not only been the most stable, but is the only one in which all three networks produced ratings gains this season, according to Nielsen data.

NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, ABC's World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer and the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley cumulatively averaged 23.1 million viewers in the 6:30 p.m.-7 p.m. half-hour from September 2012 through May 2013, up about 1 million viewers from the previous season when they averaged a cumulative 22.3 million viewers.

The shows' ability to stay stable while the primetime entertainment daypart lost viewers in droves may well have been due to lots of major national news events-the presidential election, Hurricane Sandy, school shootings in Connecticut, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma tornadoes and the installation of a new Pope being among the biggest. The numbers prove that when viewers want to get information on breaking news, they don't turn all their attention to the Internet.

During the 2012-13 season, NBC's Nightly News averaged 8.67 million viewers per night, a 1.3 18-49 rating and a 2.0 25-54 rating. During the 2011-12 season, it averaged 8.64 million viewers, a 1.3 18-49 rating and a 2.0 25-54 rating.

ABC's World News Tonight during the 2012-13 season averaged 7.88, million viewers, a 1.2 18-49 rating and a 1.7 25-54 rating. During the 2011-12 season, it averaged 7.62 million viewers, a 1.2 18-49 rating and a 1.7 25-54 rating.

CBS' Evening News during the 2012-13 season averaged 6.58 million viewers, a 1.0 18-49 rating and a 1.5 25-54 rating. During the 2011-12 season, it averaged 6.13 million viewers, a 1.0 18-49 rating and a 1.5 25-54 rating.

While the viewer increases are not huge and the demo numbers are all flat, status quo is still impressive in these times when primetime broadcast is declining by double-digits in viewers and demos.

Media pundits for years have been forecasting the demise of the broadcast network evening news telecasts, but as many media buyers point out, it's still the only place where an advertiser can reach such a mass audience within a half-hour time period. Advertisers who buy all three network news programs and reach 23 million viewers can probably do so at half the cost of a primetime spot. And no broadcast network entertainment show averages 23 million viewers.

Age Perception Has Become Reality

But the broadcast evening news daypart suffers from a perception problem that it is the oldest daypart. That's why the commercials in the telecasts are mainly for pharmaceuticals, luxury autos and financial institutions. Most advertisers who want to market mainly to viewers under age 60 stay away.

It's true that the evening news telecasts have a median age audience of 63, but there are some broadcast entertainment series with median ages in that ballpark, and primetime series whose 18-49 and 25-54 demo numbers are not that much better than those of the evening news telecasts.

CBS' Blue Bloods has a median age of 63, an 18-49 demo rating of 1.4 and a 25-54 demo rating of 1.6. CBS' The Good Wife has a median age audience of 61, a 1.6 18-49 rating and a 1.8 25-54 rating, while CBS' The Mentalist also has a median age audience of 61 along with a 1.6 18-49 demo rating and a 1.9 25-54.

While their median ages may be a bit lower, NBC's Hannibal, which was renewed for a second season, averages a 1.3 18-49 rating and a 1.6 25-54 rating, and NBC drama Grimm averages a 1.5 18-49 rating and a 1.7 25-54 rating. Law & Order: SVU averages a 1.6 18-49 and a 1.8 25-54. With its 1.3 18-49 rating and 2.0 25-54 rating, NBC's Nightly News compares well to those shows.

But some advertisers still have blinders on.

"The broadcast network entertainment shows have been steadily aging up and a lot of them are approaching a median age of 60," says Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at Carat. "But to many advertisers the evening news is perceived as old and a lot of them don't want any evening news inventory in their plans."

Brad Adgate, senior VP, director of research at Horizon Media says, "The good news for the evening news daypart is that 23 million people are watching during that half-hour. The bad news is that half of those viewers are over 60."

But Adgate adds, "buying the evening news can be as efficient as buying some of those older-skewing broadcast series."

CBS Plays Catch-Up

Both Adgate and Gold had praise for Scott Pelley and his predecessor Bob Schieffer, who replaced Katie Couric as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

"Pelley is a no-nonsense news guy and viewers seem to like him," Adgate says. "And CBS has given him additional exposure with his role on 60 Minutes."

Gold says, "All three networks are up in viewers but CBS is up the most, although still in third place. But Pelley has clearly stopped the bleeding, although CBS still has an uphill fight to catch ABC or NBC."