UPDATE: On October 14, revised Nielsen data showed that ABC’s “World News” had not beaten NBC’s “Nightly News” in total viewers, meaning NBC’s winning streak among total viewers had not been broken. The Nielsen error came about as the result of a software glitch that affected months of data.
ABC’s “World News Tonight” has in recent weeks challenged NBC’s “Nightly News” in the advertiser-coveted demo of people between the ages of 25 and 54. Now, for the first time in about half a decade, ABC has beaten NBC out for the most-watched evening newscast on broadcast television – as well as for viewers between 25 and 54 and viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. It marks the first time in 263 weeks that the NBC newscast has not been the most-viewed regularly scheduled evening newscast on TV.
“We’re proud of the quality of the broadcast we produce every night and the stories we tell,” NBC News said in a statement. ” In an increasingly complex world,’NBC Nightly News’ is the place our audience can turn for credible, authoritative news they can trust.”
But last week , more audiences turned to “World News Tonight,” which features anchor David Muir, who took over the chair from Diane Sawyer about a month ago.
According to Nielsen figures, “World News” attracted an average of 8.416 million viewers last week, compared with an average of 8.25 million for “Nightly News” and an average of 6.614 million for CBS’ “CBS Evening News.” In the 25-to-54 demo, “World News” snared an average of 2.204 million viewers between 25 and 54, compared with an average of 1.937 million for “Nightly News” and an average of 1.602 million for “CBS Evening News.”
There’s no telling whether ABC will be able to duplicate the feat in coming weeks. In the recently completed 2013-2014 TV season, “Nightly News” had its best viewer delivery in eight years and enjoyed a large advantage over both ABC and CBS. And “Nightly News” typically out-muscles “World News” among younger viewers, those between 18 and 49
But ABC has been pressing its advantage in the 25-to-54 demo for weeks and has been eating into NBC’s advantage in that category. In May, under Diane Sawyer, “World News” won the May sweep among viewers between 25 and 54 – the first time the newscast had done so in seven years.
Even if the victory is short-lived, it will mark another instance where ABC News has pulled the rug out from its rivals at NBC. In 2012, ABC’s “Good Morning America” defeated NBC’s “Today” as the most-watched morning-news program, a triumph that continues to affect how NBC operates its venerable eggs-and-toast franchise. NBC recently installed Jamie Horowitz, a former ESPN executive, as the new overseer at “Today,” and many TV-news executives expect him to shake up the program in significant ways.
ABC’s victory is also likely to prompt a debate over what sort of evening newscast is the best in today’s attention-split culture. Rivals regularly scoff at ABC’s fast-paced evening newscast, and point to some of its softer subjects – like reports on a bear that walks on two legs or the hubub surrounding a food known as a ‘waffle taco.” Yet last week, “World News” featured correspondent Richard Besser reporting from Liberia on Ebola and Martha Raddatz on a warship in the Gulf reporting on America’s fight against ISIS. For his part, anchor Muir has traveled frequently since taking anchor duties, even securing an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook.
NBC News executives believe last week’s broadcasts of “Nightly News” may have been affected by late-season baseball broadcasts, which may have swayed viewers in markets where the NBC station is stronger than the ABC station.
No matter what the root cause of the ABC victory, the Walt Disney-owned network’s ability to chip away at the audiences advertisers seek means Williams and Muir could be the generals in the next great TV-network battle.