NBC is taking back more ground in the scorched-earth morning-news battle between its “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Today” wooed more viewers overall than its rival, as well as in the audience most coveted by advertisers, for the week ended November 28, the second time it has done so in the last four weeks. By accomplishing that feat, the NBC franchise has begun to mount what is perhaps its most serious threat to “GMA” since the ABC program usurped the number-one spot from NBC in 2012. Simply put, “Today” is closer than it has been in years to regaining its status as America’s most-watched morning program.
“Today” has for months consistently beat “GMA” in luring the most viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most favored by advertisers in news programming. Winning the most-watched title, however, has proved more elusive. “Today” lured an average of 4.74 million viewers overall, and 1.819 million viewers between 25 and 54 for the week ended November 28, according to data from Nielsen. In comparison, “Good Morning America” won an average of 4.635 million viewers overall and 1.55 million between 25 and 54.
This current victory is notable because it takes place without a major news event as its driver. “Today” has won more viewers than “GMA” in past weeks when NBC aired the Olympics from Rio earlier this year, or during the week that contained Election Day. But this win comes without a unique element of that sort, and is likely to raise the pressure a notch on executives at ABC News.
To be sure, NBC’s margin of victory is thin: Just 105,000 viewers separate the second most-watched morning program from the first. Season to date, “GMA” leads “Today” by an equally narrow 129,000 viewers.
But the “Today” victory comes as NBC has bet on keeping its show in its current form, and after ABC made significant tweaks to “GMA” just a few weeks ago. On September 6, ABC News added popular host Michael Strahan to “Good Morning America” on a full-time basis, giving him more time on the show and even adding him to the program’s opening with Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos. Producers also tweaked the last half hour, adding a live audience to the proceedings. NBC, meanwhile, signed “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer to a new contract several months ago, and, more recently, signed his co-host Savannah Guthrie to a new deal.
Both shows continue to grapple with overall audience erosion. Results for TV’s November sweeps period show that “Today” saw a dip of 4% in total viewers and a 6% dip among viewers between 25 and 54, according to data from Nielsen. “Good Morning America” saw total viewers fall 5% and viewers between 25 and 54 fall 7%. “CBS This Morning,” meanwhile, saw its overall viewership rise 8% during the period, while its viewers between 25 and 54 increased 11%.
At “Good Morning America,” the “”Today” win doesn’t mean the fight is over. The show’s bookers have continued to fight for exclusive interviews with notables ranging from Megyn Kelly to Naomi Judd. The show also depends on George Stephanopoulos to make news with interviews such as one he had in recent days with Donald Trump-advisor Kellyanne Conway, during which he grilled her over the President-elect spreading false information via Twitter.
The relationship between the two shows, however, seems to be in flux. “Good Morning America” dominated “Today” in 2012, using a breezier format and “family” of on-air hosts to snatch away “Today’s” number-one status after the show had enjoyed 16 years as America’s most-watched morning program. “Today” had lost viewers during Ann Curry’s tenure as co-host, and NBC began to ape some of the techniques used by its ABC rival. The shift became more pronounced after Curry left the show with a tearful on-air farewell that angered some viewers.
In recent months, however, “Today” has carved its own path. The show has pared away the number of elements that greet viewers when it opens, focusing squarely on Lauer and Guthrie and the news of the day. A “news reader” position that had been part of the program for years was eliminated after Natalie Morales left for a new role with NBC News and “Access Hollywood” in Los Angeles. And “Today” has pursued newsmaker interviews during a particularly intense election cycle. The next few weeks may tell whether viewers elect “Today” in more significant fashion.