'Nightly News' nabs 1st place in ratings for NBC

NEW YORK — “NBC Nightly News” will end the 1998-99 season in first place by virtually all measurements, overcoming a solid challenge from ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the Peacock web’s primetime Nielsen slide.

Season’s biggest loser ratings-wise is the “CBS Evening News,” which — despite the Eye’s primetime resurgence with viewers — remains a distant third in most major categories and last week sank to its worst showing with the key news demo of adults 25-54 in 12 years.

With just three days of Nielsen data left to be figured in, “Nightly” is on top in overall viewers (10.78 million), households (8.2 rating/17 share) and in adults 25-54 (3.7 rating). Barring an unexpected collapse during the last three days of the season, which ends Wednesday, the Tom Brokaw-anchored newscast will notch its third consecutive season-long win.

Sweet victory

This season’s victory may be particularly sweet for Peacock staffers, coming as it does during a year marked by huge national and international news.

The Peter Jennings-toplined “World News” is second by all three measures, averaging 10.76 million viewers, an 8.0/16 in homes and a 3.5 rating with adults 25-54. Dan Rather’s “Evening News” once again ends the season in third, with an average of 9.78 million viewers, a 7.3/15 household rating and a 3.0 rating among adults 25-54.

CBS’ Rathercast took the biggest hit among the three news shows, dropping 8% in viewers and the key 25-54 demo. NBC also suffered some ratings slippage, losing 5% of its overall aud and its 25-54 viewership.

Growing aud

ABC also lost a bit of ground with adults 25-54, slipping 5%, but the net actually increased its total aud by 2% — a not insignificant accomplishment in an era where network erosion is generally a rule.

Alphabet web has also considerably closed the gap separating it from first place. Last year, NBC led ABC by 709,000 viewers in the evening news race; this season, the Peacock’s lead is down to less than 20,000.

Still, “Nightly” has no doubt been hurt by the overall ratings hit the Peacock has taken in primetime, where auds in key demos have fallen more than 15%. So far, however, the Brokawcast has maintained its grip on first place; a similar ratings collapse by ABC three seasons ago helped knock “World News Tonight” out of the number one position it had held for years.

Eye baffled

As for “Evening News,” CBS insiders are baffled by the broadcast’s slipping Nielsen numbers. While the Rather show has always been handicapped by the Eye’s poor lineup of big city affils and owned stations, the broadcast seemed to be making a comeback after a boost from the 1998 Winter Olympics.

CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment for this story.

A spokeswoman for the “Evening News” said that “the numbers are what they are. We all know that evening news ratings go in cycles. In the meantime, the ‘CBS Evening News’ continues to put on a hard-hitting newscast night after night.”

Final season-long ratings will be released next Wednesday.

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