Viewers may be coming around to the fact that Brian Williams is off "NBC Nightly News" and may not be back.
For the first time since Williams was suspended in early February, "NBC Nightly News" finished second in the evening news ratings race for the week of March 30-April 3. "ABC World News Tonight With David Muir" won the week with 7.99 million viewers to NBC's 7.91 million. "CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley" was third with 6.57 million.
The "World News" win ends NBC's streak of 288 consecutive weekly wins, which extends to Sept. 7, 2009.
ABC was also first in viewers in the 25 to 54 age group, which is what advertisers seek when buying news programs.
In acknowledging the second-place finish, NBC News expressed support for Lester Holt, who has filled in for Williams since he stepped away from the anchor chair after making false statements regarding his 2003 coverage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"Lester Holt has led 'NBC Nightly News' to great success over the past two months and we are pleased with his strong performance during this time," the network said in a statement.
NBC's loss comes after the network removed the additional audience it was getting from second airings of "NBC Nightly News" in the overnight hours on stations in 12% of the U.S. The overnight broadcasts included in the weekly average, which is permitted by audience measurement service Nielsen, boosted the "Nightly News" audience by around 70,000 viewers.
Advertising agencies who bought time on "Nightly News" expressed unhappiness that they were being charged for the overnight viewers when their intent was to reach those watching in the evening.
The decision to give "Nightly News" a second airing in the overnight hours was made in September in anticipation of the arrival of ABC News anchor David Muir, who demonstrated his viewer appeal as the primary substitute for Diane Sawyer. Muir's broadcast was catching up to "NBC Nightly News" even before the controversy that led to Williams' removal.
Privately, NBC News executives note that the network has not promoted Holt's newscast during Williams' suspension, while ABC has launched a campaign to tout Muir.
Williams is being benched for at least six months. His return will be considered once an internal review of his work is completed.