ABC Pulls Ahead In The Evening News Race

For the first time in five and a half years, ABC’s “World News Tonight” defeated the “NBC Nightly News” in total viewers last week. ABC’s evening newscast averaged 7.99 million viewers a night compared with NBC’s 7.91 million for the week beginning March 30, according to Nielsen.

It seems like the relentless promoting of “World News Tonight,” anchor David Muir is finally beginning to pay off. ABC has been promoting Muir during their primetime schedule as well as even a few spots on ESPN to give him as much exposure and name recognition as possible.

The Nielson numbers for the week of March 30, which give “World News Tonight” first place in total viewers, the adults 25-54 demo and adults 18-49 demo, come as Muir has been making steady gains on the NBC broadcast.

It also comes as Lester Holt continues filling in for Brian Williams who is serving a 6-month suspension from the network. There is strong indications from new NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who is in just his second day on the job, that he is thinking about returning the man  he hired, Brian Williams to his post as anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” when his six months are up. There would likely be a number of interviews that Williams would give before returning. But at least for now, Lack is playing the return of Williams very close to the vest. So while it may seem to some as a done deal, it is far from it, as Lack continues to look at how he is going to remake both MSNBC as well as NBC News.

Meanwhile, back on the evening newscast front  ABC has been steadily catching up to NBC  and closed the gap to as few as 11,000 viewers three weeks ago, before “Nightly News,” which Lester Holt now anchors, briefly expanded the lead.

“The Nightly News” joins other marquee NBC News shows like “Today” and “Meet the Press” that have lost their once-dominant edge in recent years. And the latest evening news ratings comes on just the second day on the job for Lack, the chairman of NBC News.

ABC was also the only network to grow year-over-year, up +10% in viewers and up +1% in the demo. “Nightly News” was down -8% in viewers and down -17% in the demo and the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” was down -5% in viewers and down -9% in the demo.

Season-to-date, “Nightly News” remains #1 in total viewers, leading “WNT” by +6% and leading “Evening News” by +26%.

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Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.