NBC is turning to insomniacs to get ratings help for evening news anchor Lester Holt.
The network has quietly added second airings of "NBC Nightly News" in overnight time periods on 10 affiliate stations in such markets as Cleveland, St. Louis, Seattle and Atlanta.
The sleepless in Seattle and other cities who tune in are being included in the weekly average for the program that is now neck-and-neck with "ABC World News Tonight with David Muir" for the ratings lead.
Audience measurement service Nielsen allows networks to add viewers to the overall rating for a program as long as the second airing does not cover more than 30% of the country.
The additional stations for "Nightly" cover about 12% of the U.S. and are airing the program between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Those added viewers could make the difference between first and second place for Holt, who took the chair over for Brian Williams after the longtime anchor was suspended for making false statements about his reporting during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Holt has won in the ratings for all five weeks he has been on the job. But his win for the week of March 9 to 13 was his narrowest so far. "NBC Nightly News" averaged 8.13 million viewers, just 11,000 ahead of "ABC World News Tonight."
The night-owl airings may have added as many as 70,000 viewers to Holt's total.
The first NBC affiliate station to add the additional broadcast was in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 2, two days before Williams apologized on-air for erroneously stating that he was aboard a Chinook helicopter forced down by enemy fire. Williams was off the air on Feb. 9 and started serving a six-month suspension Feb. 11.
Other stations added "Nightly" over the next few weeks while the controversy played out. Williams' return is in doubt among many within the organization.
NBC affiliates have long been airing repeats of network and syndicated programs in late-night hours to pick up shift workers, insomniacs, nursing mothers or anyone else available during that time.
An NBC News spokeswoman said the plan to put a second run of "Nightly News" had been in the works since September and was not related to the current situation with Williams.
In a statement, the network said the later airings were added because "we believed there would be an appetite for 'NBC Nightly News' in addition to its regular time slot, and that has proven to be true: The viewer response has been overwhelmingly positive."