The complex story of who won the evening news race in 2019

ABC World News Tonight” and “NBC Nightly News” both wrapped 2019 as ratings winners in a “depends on the way you look at it” way.

  • ABC’s evening newscast, anchored by David Muir, was tops in total viewers for the 2019 calendar year according to the official ratings issued by Nielsen.
  • “NBC Nightly News,” meanwhile, scraped out a narrow win in two key demos with anchor Lester Holt.
  • “Nightly” barely edged out “World News” in the 24-54 demo — gaining an edge of just 0.3%, according to a press release from NBC.
  • To give you better idea of what that means — that’s an average difference of just 5,000 viewers.
  • NBC fared a bit better in the adults 18-25 demo, beating ABC by 3%.

It’s worth noting that both ABC and NBC’s ratings data aren’t what they seem on the surface.

  • Both newscasts’ ratings include their “first run” across the country in each time zone and market.
  • However, ratings rules allow the networks to include overnight airings on their owned and operated stations as part of the total number — without making it immediately clear how many viewers that adds.
  • Granted, the early morning rebroadcasts likely don’t draw huge audiences, but eyeballs are still eyeballs.
  • Because these rebroadcasts air in some of the nation’s largest markets, the total viewership they attract can be significant when totaled together — especially in such a tight race.
  • ABC also has a slight edge, because it runs “World News Tonight” at 3:30 p.m. in addition to the both the evening and overnight broadcast in Los Angeles and San Fransisco — both of which are large markets (in other words, each edition airs three times in these cities as opposed to NBC’s two).
  • That 3:30 p.m. broadcast is notable because it’s not in the middle of the night. Granted, it’s also not exactly prime time, but it almost certainly helps boost the numbers as well.
  • Also, these numbers represent the calendar year of 2019. Networks frequently issue announcements touting “wins” in certain months, weeks or even days — as well as “seasons,” which typically spread over two calendar years.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, “CBS Evening News” finished the year last — again.

  • It’s also last in most of the demo ratings while ABC and NBC posted gains over CBS.
  • “Evening” is the middle of a protracted relaunch. Norah O’Donnell took over July 15 and the broadcast moved to Washington, D.C. in early December.
  • Those changes haven’t made a big dent on ratings as of yet — in fact CBS’s numbers took a dip after O’Donnell took over from Jeff Glor over the summer.
  • Numbers improved a bit after the move to D.C., but O’Donnell certainly hasn’t been an immediate hit with viewers.

ABC is also giving NBC a run in the mornings — “Good Morning America” generally wins in total viewers, but “Today” performs better in the demo.

  • Likewise, “CBS This Morning,” which also underwent a major anchor shakeup this year, remains last.