CBS 'Evening News' hits low

ABC News’ “World News With Charles Gibson” won the May sweep decisively over “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams,” marking Gibson’s second consecutive sweep win and widening his lead in the evening news race.

It’s the first time “World News” has won consecutive sweeps since 1996, the year ABC’s Peter Jennings ceded the ratings crown to NBC’s Tom Brokaw and the Alphabet began the first of nine years in second place.

During May, “World News” averaged 7.95 million total viewers, a 650,000-viewer margin over “Nightly News,” which averaged 7.3 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS’ “Evening News With Katie Couric” averaged 6.1 million viewers, its lowest total for any sweep since November 1991, when Nielsen began storing data electronically.

“World News” was the only evening newscast to add viewers vs. the last May sweep, increasing 7%; NBC dropped 11% and CBS 15%.

NBC’s Williams is still ahead for the year, averaging 8.88 million viewers since September compared with Gibson’s 8.68 million, but the consecutive victories point to a likely changing of the guard as Gibson gets set to mark a year in the job that unexpectedly fell to him after Bob Woodruff’s wounding in Iraq and the pregnancy of Elizabeth Vargas.

“This is very much Charlie’s broadcast; he has grown more and more comfortable over the past year, and viewers recognize that,” said exec producer Jon Banner. At the same time, he said, “We are mindful this is a very competitive environment; we have been in second place for a long time.”

Victory for ABC came after a particularly robust reporting month featuring chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross’ efforts on the CIA’s covert activity in Iran. Correspondent Jim Sciutto reported from the Darfur region of Sudan, and Woodruff reported from Cuba on the country’s May Day celebrations.

Gibson’s ascendance comes at a time when research indicates evening news audiences are unsettled after two years of changes at the anchor desks. Some have speculated that Gibson most resembles the kind of elder statesman to whom news auds seem to gravitate.

But the numbers could be affected by dramatic meltdowns in primetime during May at rival networks, possibly affecting audience flows to other dayparts. NBC, finishing a third year in fourth place, suffered a 23% drop in ratings in May and CBS saw 15% of its primetime audience vanish. Meanwhile, ABC was up 5% during May sweeps in primetime.

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