Presidential campaign coverage has helped the cable news networks increase or at least maintain their primetime audience levels versus last year. No such story is evident for the three broadcast networks’ weeknight news programs, according to Carat Programming. ABC and NBC are in a virtual tie in the season to date ratings race (with ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson fractionally ahead) on the key news sales demographic of Adults 25-54. Perennial leader NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams dropped into this tie by eroding at a faster rate than ABC. Both networks have been jockeying for news leadership since the season began. NBC’s fortunes are not helped by the network’s continued poor showing in primetime, which serves somewhat as a promotional base for the newscast.
The biggest audience losses are being seen by the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric as it attempts to right itself after scrapping an ill-considered format shift when Couric joined the newscast last year. News has never reached a young audience, but any hope that coverage of Barack Obama’s campaign would briefly youthify the daypart has been dashed. Audience declines this season for Adults 18-34 are even sharper than on 25-54, with the worst declines again seen by CBS…a further slap to anchor Couric, who was brought in to help “age down” the network’s geriatric audience profile.
Where’d the viewers go? Carat Programming checked the cable news networks’ 6:30 pm ratings (which compete with the three network newscasts in most of the country) and they are up on some demographics, down on others, but regardless do not account for the scope of the network losses. Still, with news now available all day on cable and online, the nightly network newscasts simply have less of a sense of urgency to them, and this audience dispersion will likely continue.