Williams anchored to news race lead

Lead narrower than previous week

NBC’s Brian Williams held on to Tom Brokaw’s ratings lead in his first full week as “Nightly News” anchor.

While Williams fell back to earth after a partial first week buoyed by Brokaw’s last signoff, a week later the newly installed anchor held an 11% lead in total viewers over ABC’s Peter Jennings and a 45% lead over CBS’ Dan Rather.

This lead was narrower than the week before, when interest in Brokaw’s last signoff gave NBC’s evening newscast a 31% lead over ABC and a 61% lead over CBS.

While it hasn’t occurred in more than 20 years, anchor changes have historically led to some dropoff as a certain percentage of viewers shop around. CBS’ “Evening News” ratings dropped from a 14.1 to 13.6 (in households) the season after the switch from Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather.

But it hasn’t happened to Williams. At least not yet.

The Williams-led broadcast averaged 10.54 million total viewers last week. ABC’s “World News Tonight” drew 9.48 million viewers, CBS’ “Evening News” 7.3 million.

Conventional wisdom is that ABC’s Jennings has the most to gain from the transition at NBC and at CBS when Rather leaves the anchor’s chair in March.

Williams retained his margin, but Jennings gained viewers from last week, adding 10,000 even as portions of “World News Tonight” were preempted by “Monday Night Football” in some parts of the country.

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