The general consensus among media reporters seems to be that if Lester Holt can maintain Brian Williams‘ first place ratings as temporary anchor of NBC Nightly News, then he will stay in that seat long after Williams’ six-month suspension expires. But if his first full week on the job is any indication, Holt may be in trouble.
For the week of February 9 through 13, NBC Nightly News averaged 9.4 million total viewers. Compared to the last full week Williams anchored, which had 10.1 million total, Holt lost the broadcast an average of 700,000 viewers. ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir averaged 9.0 million viewers last week, coming in second place, while CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley came in third with 7.6 million.
In the coveted 25-54 demo, things were even closer. NBC’s Holt eked out a victory with 2.29 million in the demo over ABC’s 2.24 million. Once again, CBS came in third with 1.79 million.
If this trend continues with Holt behind the NBC Nightly News desk, ABC’s Muir could be beating him in the ratings as consistently as Good Morning America now beats the Today show in short order, spelling big problems for NBC. In fact, ABC’s evening newscast has actually been gaining on NBC’s long before the issues with Williams’ credibility arose.
Looking at the season to date numbers going back to September 22, ABC’s World News Tonight is up 5% in total viewers and 2% in the demo compared to the same period the previous years while NBC Nightly News is down 1% in total and 8% in the demo. While those numbers may not seem that significant, they translate to 446,000 more viewers watching ABC and 100,000 less watching NBC compared to last season.
This means the gap between the two shows was already starting to shrink before Williams was suspended. At this point last year, NBC led ABC by more than 1.1 million total viewers and nearly 300,000 in the demo. As of February 6 of this year, only 588,000 total viewers separated ABC from NBC and just 38,000 separated the two in the demo. During fourth quarter of last year, ABC World News Tonight beat NBC Nightly News in the demo for the first time in seven years.
When Muir took over ABC’s evening news broadcast from veteran Diane Sawyer last September he was by far the newest kid on the block. But he still managed to best NBC’s Brian Williams in the demo during his first full quarter on the air. With Williams out and viewers’ trust in NBC News wavering, this is his chance to finish what he started.
If six months from now, Muir is consistently leading Holt in total viewers, NBC may start thinking seriously about giving Brian Williams that second chance after all.
[Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the season-to-date rating numbers did not include last week. They do include the week of 2/9-2/13]
[Photo via screengrab]
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