ABC News’ World News Tonight with David Muir topped ratings in the first quarter, but the period also showed viewership coming back down to Earth across all of the evening newscasts.
World News Tonight averaged 9.6 million total viewers, a drop of 2% from 9.8 million in the first quarter a year earlier, a period marked by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and a presidential primary campaign. NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt posted 7.97 million, a drop of 8% from 8.7 million. CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell was at 6 million, off 7% from 6.26 million. The numbers are from Nielsen and were released by ABC.
In the 25-54 demo, World News Tonight averaged 1.9 million, from 2.02 million in the first quarter of 2020. NBC Nightly News was at 1.56 million, from 1.96 million last year, and CBS Evening News averaged 1.13 million, up from 1.22 million.
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ABC News said that this was the first time in 25 years that it has topped the first quarter across total viewers and the key demographics 25-54 and 18-49. CBS News, meanwhile, trumpeted a narrower gap with NBC Nightly News in total viewers and the demos.
The decline in many ways was expected, as the evening newscasts showed a resurgence in the early part of the Covid-19 crisis. Networks also ran additional newscasts last year, given the extraordinary news cycles, something that further increased viewership then. They also have increasingly been pointing to viewership on streaming platforms, given the change in viewing habits.
Comparing the most recent first quarter numbers to a less newsworthy period — the first quarter of 2019 — World News Tonight was up 3% in total viewers, NBC Nightly News was down 8% and CBS Evening News was off by 9%. In that quarter two years ago, World News Tonight averaged 9.32 million viewers, NBC Nightly News posted 8.68 million and CBS Evening News, then anchored by Jeff Glor, had 6.58 million.