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‘Today’ Ratings Soar During Matt Lauer Chaos

NBC’s “Today” show is one of the nation’s best-known sources of morning news. But when that news is about “Today” itself, the audience response to the program can be quite surprising.

“Today” for the first time in three months was the nation’s most watched morning-news program, defeating its main rival, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” by more than 539,000 viewers for the five days ending December 1st, or 12.4%. In the prior week, “GMA” won just 110,000 more viewers than “Today.”

The NBC program last week attracted an average of 4.9 million viewers, compared with an average of 4.36 million for “GMA” and an average of nearly 3.53 million for CBS’ “CBS This Morning.”

Much of the surge can likely be attributed to the news – broken first in the early minutes of “Today’s” Wednesday, November 29th broadcast – that NBC News terminated veteran anchor Matt Lauer, citing “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Viewers were first to see troubled reactions to the news by Lauer’s longtime colleagues Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker. Over the next two days, “Today” was early to report on a statement from Lauer, and featured reporting on the matter by NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk.

But “Today” won more viewers than “GMA” on the Monday and Tuesday broadcasts prior to the eruption of interest surrounding the Lauer news, according to data from Nielsen. On Monday and Tuesday, “Today” attracted greater overall viewership than its ABC competitor, as well as more of the viewers advertisers in news programs care about – people between 25 and 54.

The show’s audience spiked significantly on Wednesday, when the show captured the interest of 5.74 million viewers, compared with 4.21 million on Tuesday and nearly 4.48 million on Monday. Viewer interest continued for the rest of the week. “Today” captured an average of nearly 5.22 million viewers on Thursday and almost 4.87 million on Friday.

Both NBC and ABC will likely place more scrutiny on this week’s audience measures to get a more normalized sense of viewership patterns surrounding the two shows. Season to date, Good Morning America” is the most-watched morning program TV – but by just a hair. “GMA” has captured an average of 4.329 million viewers this season, compared with 4.27 million for “Today.” The difference? A mere 59,000 viewers.

As it has for many months, “Today” continues to lure more viewers between 25 and 54 than its two main rivals. Last week, with the Lauer drama in the background, the difference was more stark. “Today” captured an average of 1.292 million people in the advertiser demo, compared with 972,000 for “GMA” and 684,000 for “CBS This Morning.”

Ad buyers have said they do not anticipate an anchor change at “Today” to spur major ratings fluctuations, but rival networks are likely to do what they can to woo NBC’s viewers to try something new at a moment of transition. NBC has not set a public timeline to find a replacement for Lauer. Hoda Kotb has been working alongside Savannah Guthrie since Lauer’s ouster was announced.

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