Network TV Audience Trends
2006 Annual Report
Among the morning programs offered by the three network news divisions, viewership declines occurred across the board. NBC’s “Today Show” remained the industry leader, followed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the CBS “Early Show.”
On Thursday, July 14, 2005 , “Today” achieved an unprecedented 500 weeks at the top of the morning-show ratings. In December, it celebrated a full 10 top-rated years.
“Good Morning America ” edged closer to “Today” in 2005, but seemed unlikely to overtake the peacock’s morning show in 2006, particularly since NBC would be airing the Olympics. But faced with two years of declining audiences and rumors that the “Today” host Katie Couric was being courted by CBS to fill its evening anchor chair, it was not likely that NBC was taking the closing gap lightly.
From November 2004 to November 2005, overall morning news viewership dropped from 14.6 million viewers to 14.1 million. The viewership trend line for morning news has always been a bit more erratic than its evening news counterpart. While November 2005 viewership was lower than in 2003 or 2004, the decline still left total viewership higher than in either 2002 or 2001.
In November 2005, “Today” averaged 6 million, down 5% from 6.3 million in 2004. Perhaps more worrisome for NBC, it was the second straight year of decline.
At ABC, meanwhile, “Good Morning America” averaged 5.3 million viewers, down 2% from 5.4 million in 2004. The “Early Show” averaged 2.7 million, down 7% from 2.9 million in November 2004.
What might account for the decline in morning viewers? Is it anything more than a temporary bump that will pick up, as it did in 2003?
Trying to sort that out is probably premature. Despite some major news events in 2005, with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the death of a Pope, the Terry Schiavo right-to-die case and more, there may have been some letdown in viewership because the year earlier was an election year. There was a similar decline in audience from 2000 to 2001. But it is also possible that the growing reliance of people on the Internet, the expansion of local morning program before 7 a.m., and other competition were beginning to cut into the networks’ morning shows. The next year should provide at least some indication.
To turn those a.m. programs into two-hour-a-day economic Energizer Bunnies for their corporate parents (three hours in the case of “Today”) the networks go further with sponsored segments, cross-promotions, and product tie-ins than anything else in network news. “Today” played host to Donald Trump’s fired apprentices (contestants from Martha Stewart’s version appeared on her own morning program). Failed “Survivor” contestants took a seat on the couches of CBS’s “Early Show,” and “Good Morning America” doled out deleted scenes from “Desperate Housewives” for viewers who hadn’t gotten enough of ABC’s hit Sunday night series.
At least occasionally, though it does not appear to be common, those packages violated even more basic standards. In April 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported that the “Today Show” tech editor Corey Greenberg had been receiving payments from companies like Apple, Seiko Epson and Hewlett-Packard, whose products he was advocating in his role as tech editor. The Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz noted in an article the following day that when Greenberg appeared in a July 2004 segment of the “Today Show” he referred to Apple’s iPod as “a great portable musical player…the coolest-looking one” and suggested a compatible device to “share your music with other people.” “This is the way to go,” he declared.”10 In what Kurtz noted was a well-placed though unintentionally accurate comment, the host Matt Lauer told Greenberg, “Let’s cut the Apple commercial right now, okay?”11
While there was some movement in the median age figures for individual morning news shows, the overall picture remained the same from December 2004 to December 2005, much as it did for the evening newscasts. The median age of the Big Three morning viewers combined was 53. While the “Today” audience age moved from 51 to 52 the program still enjoyed the youngest audience of the Big Three. The median age of the “Good Morning America” audience moved downward from 54 to 53. The “Early Show” audience held at roughly 53.