Broadcast network news continued to fight a rear guard attack as audience levels slipped again in the 2017-18 television season, which ended last week.
Only one daily program, “ABC World News Tonight With David Muir,” showed year-to-year growth, according to data released Tuesday by Nielsen.
Every other daily news franchise on ABC, CBS and NBC posted year-to-year audience declines, as more people turned to cable outlets and online sources for their news. The options are only growing as social media platforms such as Twitter have live morning programs and Snapchat delivers a twice-daily youth-oriented newscast produced by NBC.
Taking a glass-is-half-full attitude, Michael Corn, senior executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America” — the most-watched morning show for the sixth straight year — believes it’s an achievement that the format can still draw sizable audiences in the crowded media landscape.
“When you’re looking at 4 million people watching, that’s not bad,” Corn said. “There is some erosion, but there are very few places where you can get that many people watching the same live event. Given the amount of choices, it surprises me.”
Morning shows still have an advantage over other TV options because they are live, Corn said. Audience levels for scripted network prime-time shows have fallen at a more dramatic rate.
Corn believes morning TV will rebound once technology makes it easier to stream live shows online and on portable digital devices. Most consumers currently use online platforms to watch scripted TV shows on a delayed basis.
“I believe in the future that you’ll be able to get our show live on even more different kinds of platforms, which to me could actually reverse this trend,” Corn said.
In an age of declining numbers and adjusted expectations, network news executives are left to tout their competitive position in relation to one another.
“We’re focused on claiming as much of the broadcast audience as we can,” said NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, who noted that his network’s franchises “Today,” “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt” and the Sunday public affairs program “Meet the Press” all ranked first among viewers in the 25-to-54 age group coveted by advertisers. On the three morning shows alone, advertisers spend about $1 billion annually.
Among overall viewers, ABC’s “Good Morning America” averaged 4.15 million viewers for the season, topping NBC’s “Today” (4.07 million) and “CBS This Morning” (3.31 million).
“CBS This Morning” saw the biggest decline of the three morning programs, losing 7% of its audience compared with the previous season. The drop has been linked to the abrupt departure of former co-anchor Charlie Rose, who was fired in November over sexual harassment allegations.
“Good Morning America” was down 6% to its lowest level since the 1998-99 TV season.
“Today” lost Matt Lauer, its co-anchor of 20 years, after he was also fired for inappropriate workplace behavior. “Today” weathered the loss somewhat better, with a 3% decline in viewers as the program got a boost from the network’s Olympics coverage. But the audience for “Today” is the smallest in 27 years.
Despite its decline this past season, “CBS This Morning” still has significantly more viewers than it did six years ago, when it was first launched to replace “The Early Show.”
In the evening news race, ABC’s Muir averaged 8.6 million viewers — an increase of 4% over the previous season and the most for the network since the 2004-05 campaign, the last in which the late Peter Jennings anchored the broadcast. The program saw a slight bump in the 25-to-54 demographic as well.
Muir took over the broadcast from Diane Sawyer in 2014 after being her principal fill-in for several years. He is now the longest-serving of the three evening news anchors, which helps as stability matters to the habit-driven audience that watches the programs.
“David Muir is a leading force not only on the air but behind the scenes, and the audience senses that,” said Almin Karamehmedovic, the program’s executive producer.