“Good Morning America” opened its broadcast Thursday with some of its top correspondents far from the show’s studio in New York’s Times Square. The ABC morning program is hoping to put similar distance between itself and one of its main competitors.
As “GMA” launched, viewers were told the show was coming to them live “from Times Square, Kyiv, Ukraine, and London.” The references were to Robin Roberts, who had just completed an interview with Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s First Lady, and to Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes, the “GMA 3” co anchors who have been leading the show’s coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee in London. ABC secured some exclusive rights to cover the proceedings for U.S. media.
Getting anchors and correspondents out to cover events live and on the ground, is, in the view of the show’s executive producer, helping to create a meaningful shift in viewership in TV’s never-ending struggle for morning-news audiences. For the past four weeks, “GMA” has eked out gains over NBC’s “Today” in a critical audience category that can help determine how much advertising money Madison Avenue invests in news programs. “GMA” typically cedes viewers between 25 and 54 to “Today,” but for each of the past four weeks has instead won.
The battle remains hard-fought. For the five days ended May 27, “GMA” won an average of 767,000 viewers between 25 and 54 — just 63,000 more than “Today” for the same time period. In each of the two prior weeks, the margin was even thinner. “GMA” had just 10,000 more viewers in the category than its NBC-backed rival.
The morning programs portray themselves with references to waking up, coffee and sunshine, but behind the scenes, their efforts to stay ahead of rivals are serious and severe. Executives at NBCUniversal tend to keep their eye on how shows perform among the so-called “advertiser” demo — people between 25 and 54 for news shows and people between 18 and 49 for entertainment fare. ABC News already commands a lead in both total audience and the demo in the competition between “World News Tonight” and “NBC Nightly News,” and a longer-term loss in the demo for “Today” would not be taken lightly.
The question is whether “GMA” can continue to lead in the demo in weeks to come. The two shows are known to switch positions for several weeks at a time. In December, for example, potentially buoyed by the holiday season, “Today” won more viewers than “GMA” for two consecutive weeks – reversing the shows’ usual order.
“GMA” producers say they have been trying to get top anchors out in the field in more meaningful ways as pandemic conditions ease and are keeping an eye on making top news issues relatable to the people watching the program.
“We are doubling down on news of the day, but with an eye toward what is really affecting viewers at the moment,” Swink says. A story about inflation might be more geared toward how it affects a checking account, rather than the stock market, says Swink, while a story about the war in Ukraine might focus more heavily on national security.
But the producer also thinks recent moves to have anchors travel has also generated interest among audiences. In recent weeks, viewers have seen “GMA” co-anchor Michael Strahan travel to Iceland and viewed the latest in a series of “Rise & Shine” visits around the nation to see people and small businesses trying to get back to work. “GMA” has visited 45 states so far. The Jubilee coverage has also been of interest, says Swink. “I do think we are investing more, longer term, in bigger events and making sure they mean something to our viewers.”
Swink says the morning-news scrum will continue. “I think you have to wake up and win over the viewer each morning,” she says. “I don’t think I ever want to say something is a permanent shift.”