September 27, 2006

The Fall and Rise of Nightline?

Jan. 05 3.889
Feb. 05 3.575
March 05 3.438
April 05 3.389
May 05 3.223
June 05 3.087
July 05 3.146
Aug. 05 3.154
Sept. 05 4.215
Oct. 05 3.282
Nov. 05 Koppel leaves 3.572
Dec. 05 3.475
Jan. 06 3.424
Feb. 06 3.67
March 06 3.607
April 06 3.49
May 06 3.458
June 06 3.117
July 06 3.189
Aug. 06 3.44

The revival of Nightline has made news lately. The program has beaten David Letterman’s Late Show four of the past six weeks in ratings, and its audience is up 9% from last summer when it was still anchored by its long-time on-air identity, Ted Koppel. He left in November of 2005.

But a longer view finds the resurgence may not be quite so dramatic. The show’s average viewership of 3.4 million viewers in August sits above its 3.15 million the previous August, and many months this year have been slightly higher than the same months a year ago when Koppel was still there. But the differences are small, and the new Nightline is still lower than November 2005’s 3.6 million, when Koppel left. The viewership is also still lower than the 3.89 million who watched in January 2005, two months before Koppel announced he was leaving and the program began a ratings slide from where it had sat for most of 2004. Predictions of Nightline's demise may have been premature. Descriptions of some resurrection are somewhat overstated.

What is behind the recent uptick? Whatever the attractions of the the new faster-paced format, there are other factors in play, too. The August bump that pulled the show out of the usual summer doldrums most likely has something to do with the news. And Nightline is probably also helped by people like Dr. Meredith Grey in primetime.

The late summer was full of major events – from the war in Lebanon to troubles in Iraq to the five-year anniversary of 9/11. That coincides with the boost in Nightline's August ratings. These news events similarly bumped ratings of other news programming, including cable and evening network evening newscasts.

Nightline will also continue to benefit from ABC’s primetime lineup. The top-rated show of the new 2006-2007 the first week was Grey’s Anatomy, and a stronger entertainment lineup has raised ABC entertainment ratings in the last year. The network scored a 7.0 rating through April 2006, up a half rating point (or a little more than a half million viewers) from the season before. That in turn was up a half point from 2003-2004 season. The improved ratings have meant bigger lead-in audiences for ABC affiliate local newscasts, and for Nightline.