Big Three Network Evening News Viewership Has Dropped Like a Rock This Year

A year ago tomorrow, I did a post on the continued decline in evening news viewership at Big Three Networks NBC, ABC, and CBS, and made these observations and predictions about why that decline was taking place, and would continue (some of last year's text was slightly revised):
  • All three nightly broadcasts most likely lose money, when isolated from their morning counterparts (Today, Good Morning America, CBS Morning Show) and their documentary shows (Dateline, 60 Minutes, 20/20, etc.). At a minimum, none makes an acceptable level of profit.
  • BUT, the news operations of each of the Big 3 networks are very small parts of very large organizations (CBS-Viacom, NBC-GE, and ABC-Disney), so small that apparently no one at any of the three parent companies cares enough to do anything about the continued hemorrhaging in their evening new shows, as long as the news operations themselves are profitable.
  • So because those other parts of the news operations make money, the nightly news programs can chug right along, oblivous to normal profitability expectations.
  • The journalists who put together the nightly news programs could care less if the broadcasts are profitable. It's obvious that their agenda is more important.
  • Because of all of the above, the ever-shrinking audience for these broadcasts will be spoon-fed biased reporting, Bush bashing, and conservative-bashing for the foreseeable future.
Now, a year later, in today's story about network TV's generally low level of viewership last week (HT Drudge), the real eye-popper is not that the predicted viewership decline has occurred (that was, after all, a pretty easy prediction to make), but that it has accelerated:
"World News Tonight" averaged 7.3 million viewers and "Nightly News" had 7.2 million (both 5.1 rating, 11 share). The "CBS Evening News" averaged 6.5 million viewers (4.6, 10).
That's a big-whoop total of 21.0 million people, and is down precipitously from just the end of 2005. The deterioration is especially obvious when you compare the total and individual network numbers to the following two graphs from the 2006 State of the News Media report:

ViewersAllNets ViewersByNet

The line in the first graph, if extended into this year, would drop below the bottom level of last year's axis. The second graph, if extended, would show every network below the level of 2005 cellar-dweller CBS.

We're talking about a total audience drop of over 20% in just six months (from roughly 27 million to 21 million). Sure, it's summertime, but I'm skeptical that the total viewership numbers will recover at all in the fall, even with (especially with?) the arrival of Katie "Don't Call Me Perky" Couric at CBS. Barring a recovery I don't see happening, the nets have lost one-third of their evening news audience in the past 5 years, while the general population has grown 5% or so.

Okay, much of the long-term change in viewership has to do with increased television and other news and entertainment choices. But all of those choices were already in place six months ago, so that excuse doesn't wash in explaining this year's steep drop.

I daresay that the Big Three Nets are finally paying a substantial accumulated price for their years of endless leftist bias, and especially for their past 5 years of undisguised Bush-bashing. It couldn't happen to a more worthy bunch.

The crumbling is so severe that one of my predictions from last year may not be correct -- The higher-ups at Disney, GE, and CBS (spun off from Viacom) might actually notice and do something about these dying dinosaurs.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.