NEW YORK — Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings … Shepard Smith?
When it comes to choosing an evening newscast, personality matters.
In a survey of TV viewers, market research firm Insight Express found personality was the decisive factor for two in five Americans in choosing a newscast, followed by timely news coverage and broadcast times.
“We wanted to find out how important personality is in driving people to an evening newscast,” said Insight topper Lee Smith. “Is it the intrinsic nature of the reporting? Is it habit? Or is it personality?”
Measured by personality, the list of top-ranked anchors include the usual suspects but also some surprises.
Recently departed NBC “Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw topped the list with the highest personality score, followed by ABC “World News Tonight” anchor Peter Jennings.
In third was Fox News Channel anchor Smith, beating out a host of other network personalities.
NBC’s Tim Russert was a close fourth, followed by Brokaw successor Brian Williams and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Insight Express, which does market research for the networks, conducted its anchor survey to decode viewing behavior as Brokaw and Dan Rather leave their respective chairs and, presumably, an unprecedented number of news viewers start shopping.
“Our clients were not sure how much they were getting from the front man, so we put together a survey to help them understand the opinions and attitudes of consumers and how that affects their businesses,” Lee said.
Lee said all the networks had asked to review the results.
In some cases, the approval rankings mirror the Nielsen ratings, but in many cases they do not. Relatively low-rated Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown topped CBS’ Dan Rather, who barely edged his presumed successor, CBS White House correspondent John Roberts.
Insight Express, which conducts market research on TV pilots and skeins, applied the same type of methodology to newscast preferences. Participants were selected randomly, and only anchors recognized by at least 10% of 500 respondents were included in the results.
In addition to personality score, Insight Express compiled adjectives most often used to describe different news personalities. Brokaw was described as “pleasant,” “informed” and “unbiased”; Jennings as “genuine” and “classy.”
Rather had both the highest and lowest personality ratings, leaving him midpack among the 19 most-recognized anchors. He was described as both “experienced” and “biased.”
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly similarly had high negatives. “The word ‘obnoxious’ came up a lot,” Lee said.
Viewers called Smith, who had the highest personality rating in cable, “down-to-earth” and “likeable.”