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Couric’s ‘Evening News’ Debut Draws Big Audience

Sep 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Katie Couric’s debut in the anchor chair for the “CBS Evening News” drew the biggest audience for the newscast in more than eight years, leaving her network competitors in the ratings dust.

The “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric” attracted an average 13.6 million viewers Tuesday, easily outstripping NBC and ABC, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research. It was the CBS news show’s best outing since February, 1998, when the network covered the Winter Olympic games in Nagano, Japan.

Ms. Couric also attracted a younger audience than the other networks.

The last time the “CBS Evening News” beat both of its counterparts was in March, 2005, when Dan Rather signed off after 24 years as the network’s flagship anchor. Ms. Couric’s draw last night signals that viewers are curious to see how the former host of NBC’s “Today” morning-show will perform in the anchor chair.

“We’re encouraged by last night’s numbers, but what’s more important is what the audience will be six months and a year from now,” CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said in CBS’s announcement of preliminary ratings.

CBS’s evening news show has been mired in third place in the ratings.

In total viewers, the “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” finished second Tuesday with 7.8 million viewers and “ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson” was third with 7.6 million viewers in the fast national ratings. Ordinarily, the national ratings for the networks’ flagship newscasts would not be available for release until the following week, but CBS ordered fast nationals for Ms. Couric’s first two weeks on the “Evening News.”

Among viewers 25 to 54 years old, the demographic most sought by the networks and the advertisers who promote their products in news shows, “Evening News” averaged a 3.9 rating, its best performance since Jan. 18, 1999. “ABC World News Tonight” and “NBC Nightly News” both scored a 2.3 in that age group.

Ms. Couric did even better in the national ratings than she did in the 55 largest U.S. cities, which comprise the preliminary sample referred to as metered markets.

The metered-market comparisons for CBS’s competition at other networks indicated that “NBC Nightly News” was affected most by audiences tuning in to Ms. Couric’s heavily promoted debut. “Nightly News,” which normally is the highest-rated evening newscast, finished third with a 5.3 rating and a 10 share in metered markets. “ABC World News” placed second with a 5.7 rating and an 11 share.

Homes in metered markets provide data that is collected early in the day; Nielsen collects more data later in the day from meters in other U.S. homes.

Ms. Couric also beat her competitors for debut audiences. Her 13.6 million outstripped the 11.7 million that Brian Williams drew on his first day as Tom Brokaw’s successor on “NBC Nightly News” Dec. 2, 2005. Mr. Gibson scored 7.3 million when he took over ABC’s World News May 30, 2006.

Last night marked the largest margin of victory in total viewers by CBS over both NBC and ABC since at least September 1993, the earliest date for which CBS has ratings information in its database. Compared to the same night a year ago, CBS was up 84% in total viewers (13.59 million vs. 7.40 million viewers), and up 95 percent in the ratings (3.9 vs. 2.0).

Ms. Couric’s lure was particularly potent in New York and Los Angeles, bringing her a first place ranking in those cities, where ABC’s “World News” usually dominates. CBS also won in Boston, San Francisco, and Dallas, where the “Evening News” has been competitive.

In the metered markets, Ms. Couric’s debut scored an average 9.1 rating and 17 share, the highest such mark hit since the Nagano games. Back then, Nielsen had only 38 metered markets. The metered-market ratings for Ms. Couric’s Tuesday debut more than doubled the “Evening News'” metered-market average of 4.4 of the last four weeks, when summer vacations reduce audiences. The show had a 9 share on average in the last four weeks.

Under Nielsen’s measurement system, ratings represent the percentage of U.S. homes with televisions that tune into a program. The share is the percentage of homes with a television on during a program.