Surprise, the nightly news is actually growing
Viewership is up, despite the many alternatives people have
January 6, 2016
At a time when you can watch presidential news conferences on your phone and see the latest developments in Iraq pop up in your newsfeed, you’d think the evening news would be moribund.
The audience has been aging forever, after all. And you can barely turn on a digital device without being assaulted by the latest headlines.
Who needs to tune into the nightly news to know what’s going on?
Plenty of people, as it turns out.
While TV ratings are falling for just about everything else, from primetime TV to awards shows to sports, viewership for the Big Three nightly newscasts is growing.
“CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” just wrapped up its most-watched fourth quarter in nine years, averaging 7.37 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.
“ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” is averaging its biggest audience in eight years season to date, at 8.515 million.
And leader “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” is averaging 8.827 million this season, up from 8.4 million during Holt’s first six months on the job last year.
It’s tempting to credit the gains to a period that’s been particularly rich in news. There were the Paris and San Bernadino shootings late last year, daily developments with ISIS, and Donald Trump’s campaign for president, which has drawn a huge amount of public attention.
One could see nightly news’ growth as cable news backlash. After years of watching pundits squabble and sermonize, viewers might be hungry for a straighter take on the news, one without opinion or embellishment. And maybe only half hour of it.
But the truth is, this isn’t just a recent occurrence.
Total nightly news viewership has been on the rise for the past three years, following decades of slow decline before that.
Credit in part an overall rise in interest in the news. Morning news viewership has also risen in that time.
But there’s also a sense that the evening news has become more relevant. The anchors are younger than they were in the past, and correspondents seem more in touch with trends and stories that actually impact people’s lives rather than think pieces that belong on newsmagazines.
Granted, it’s still an older audience watching these newscasts. The median age of news viewers remains well above primetime, and that’s reflected in the commercials, many of which are for pharmaceuticals.
But the audience growth is promising at a time when little else has been able to generate gains. And that should ensure the nightly news continues for a very long time, despite the encroachment of digital.
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