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NBC’s Lester Holt Leads in Evening-News Battle, But With Thinner Edge

Lester Holt is maintaining NBC’s lead in the nightly news battles, but his rivals have moved closer to his network’s vaunted position in the daypart.

Holt, who has been at the helm of “NBC Nightly News” since anchor Brian Williams left the desk after his Feb. 6 broadcast, notched 9.4 million viewers between Feb. 9 and Feb. 13, according to Nielsen data. That marks Holt’s first full five-day stint on the show since Williams departed the program in the wake of an investigation into details he falsified about a 2003 NBC News expedition in Iraq. NBCUniversal suspended Williams, the nation’s most-watched evening news anchor, for six months without pay. ABC’s “World News” garnered about 9.03 million viewers, while CBS’ “Evening News” secured a total viewership of about 7.63 million.

Holt also led his rivals in the viewership most desired by advertisers in news programming. “Nightly News” won 2.29 million adults 25-54 during the same time span. “World News” attracted 2.24 million and “Evening News” won nearly 1.79 million.

Even so, “Nightly’s” lead over its rivals is not as robust as it was a year ago, when NBC’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics helped boost the evening newscast to a nine-year ratings high. And it is down 7.6% in total viewers from the prior week, when Williams sat in the chair.

In the 2015 week, NBC’s “Nightly News” lead in total viewers shrank to 4% over ABC’s “World News” compared with 31.3% in the year-earlier week. And its lead over CBS’ “Evening News” fell to 23.2%, compared with 46% in 2014. NBC’s lead among viewers between 25 and 54 over ABC fell to 2.2%, compared with 33% in the year-earlier period, and its lead in the advertiser demo over CBS fell to about 28% compared with 51% in the year-earlier period.

Executives at all three networks will likely be trying to determine how much of NBC’s edge is eroded by the lack of Olympics and how much has dissipated due to Williams’ troubles and his disappearance from the anchor chair.

Within NBC News, a school of thought is emerging that Holt could keep the anchor chair, according to a person familiar with the situation. This person said some NBC News staffers think that if Holt can maintain a lead, albeit a lesser one, the network will continue to utilize him.

At the time of his suspension, NBCUniversal left open the possibility that Williams would again anchor the broadcast. Williams “deserves a second chance, and we are rooting for him,” said Steve Burke, chief executive of the Comcast-owned outlet, even though he called Williams’ actions “inexcusable.”

[Updated, 9:47 AM PT]

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