ABC's "World News Tonight" pulled past the "NBC Nightly News" in the weekly ratings race last week, the first time the second-place broadcast moved into first place since the week that followed the death of longtime ABC anchor Peter Jennings last August.
The most recent win by "World News Tonight," which averaged 7.34 million viewers last week to NBC's 7.22 million, was in some ways more symbolic than substantive, coming during an unusual week.
Because of the Fourth of July holiday, Nielsen Media Research averaged the audiences for only the Wednesday through Friday broadcasts in its ratings report. And while Brian Williams anchored the NBC newscast, as usual, both ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS' Bob Schieffer were off last week, replaced by Diane Sawyer and Harry Smith, respectively.
Still, ABC's win comes amid a general tightening of the evening news competition, a rivalry that is bound to heighten even more this fall when Katie Couric makes her highly anticipated debut as the new CBS anchor.
One factor has been an erosion of viewership at top-rated NBC, whose audience has fallen by an average of 590,000 viewers this season, a 6% drop
ABC, meanwhile, has lost about 875,000 viewers this season, a drop of 9.5%. But "World News Tonight" has shown signs of growth since Gibson's appointment in late May. In the last four weeks, ABC has attracted the largest number of 25- to 54-year-old viewers, the key demographic used by advertisers.
John Reiss, executive producer of the "NBC Nightly News," said he is confident in the strength of the newscast, which has been increasingly focusing on live interviews, what he sees as one of Williams' strengths.
"We've got the right guy in the chair," Reiss said.
"We've been making adjustments to the broadcast that I think have made it stronger and will make it even stronger in the fall."
Meanwhile, third-place CBS, which averaged 6.52 million viewers last week, is the only broadcast that has increased its audience for the season, adding about 281,000 viewers, a 4% boost.