Evening-News Battle: NBC’s ‘Nightly’ Makes Key Gains Against ABC’s ‘World’

Lester Holt may be turning up more frequently in David Muir’s rear-view mirror.

During Muir’s tenure at “World News Tonight,” the ABC program has done something most TV programs cannot do in the streaming era: Add new linear viewers. Yet in recent weeks one of the evening-news program’s competitors has nibbled at its lead in a crucial audience category.

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Over the past few weeks, a handful of “NBC Nightly News” broadcasts have trumped “World News Tonight” among viewers between 25 and 54 — the demographic coveted most by advertisers in news programming. To be sure, “World News Tonight” maintains the dominance in the category it has enjoyed under Muir’s aegis.

For three consecutive weeks, “NBC Nightly News” has won a victory in the 25-to-54 demo on at least one night — the first time that has happened since December of 2019. The “Nightly” victories come amid coverage of the Israel-Hamas war — Holt elected to stay more than a week in Israel to anchor the NBC program from the scene — and as Walt Disney Co. has begun to simulcast “Monday Night Football” on both ESPN and ABC, pre-empting “World News” in some parts of the country on what is seen as one of its most-watched nights of the week.

The NBC victories, albeit small, could prove to be the harbinger of a new battle for ratings. ABC’s “Good Morning America” has over the past year started to notch wins among viewers between 25 and 54 over NBC rival “Today,” making for a much more competitive era in TV’s morning-news wars. Season to date, the two evening newscasts are separated by just 50,000 viewers in the audience category most relevant to advertisers. In October of last year, that gap stood at 193,000, according to Nielsen data. “Nightly News” even won more viewers in the demo for the week of October 9, the first week it has done so since Match of 2020.

Disney in September said it planned to air ten more “Monday Night Football” games on ABC than previously expected, part of a strategy to boost viewership on the broadcast network after two Hollywood labor shortages crimped the supply of original programming across the industry. “Monday Night Football” typically airs mainly on ESPN, with just a handful broadcasts appearing simultaneously on ABC across the season.

On Thursday, October 26, “Nightly” had 58,000 more viewers in the 25-to-54 demo than “World News Tonight.” On Thursday, Oct 19, “Nightly News” topped “World News” by 103,000 in the category.

But “World News” remains ascendant among overall audiences. For the five-day period starting October 23, the ABC program commanded an average of 7.73 million, compared with nearly 6.6 million for “Nightly” and nearly 4.72 million for “CBS Evening News,” according to data from Nielsen.

“Nightly” has made a bid to reach new audiences. The program is also available via YouTube and on “NBC News Now,” NBC’s live-streamed news service.

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