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Network News: A Year of Change and Challenge at NBC

By Emily Guskin, Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center

In some fundamental ways, the network news landscape changed very little in 2012.

After an unusual uptick in the overall audience for evening news in 2011, the trend line returned to its normal in 2012. The combined viewership for the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts dropped 2%, to 22.1 million, resuming the downward trajectory of nearly three decades. It now appears that 2011 may have been an outlier, with the bigger audience attributable to an unusual number of major news events that year, including the Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Even a presidential election couldn’t keep some viewers from deserting network news in 2012.

At the same time, a separate Pew Research Center analysis of the content on network news reveals the remarkably unchanging formula of the three evening newscasts. In 2012, the percentage of airtime devoted to packages, interviews and live staff reports—as well as the lengths of these stories—was virtually the same as five years earlier, in 2007. Whatever the causes of the audience erosion, and despite gloomy predictions about the future of evening news, network executives are standing pat with the structure of their news programming.

There were, though, other changes at the network news operations in 2012, many of them related to the fierce battle for that shrinking audience. And one network, NBC, seemed to experience the most turmoil and uncertainty.

The Today show, NBC’s top-rated morning news program for 16 years, was overtaken in viewership by ABC’s Good Morning America in April 2012. In addition, its once-dominant Sunday news show, the 66-year-old Meet the Press, fell behind CBS’s Face the Nation. And the network’s much-anticipated prime-time news magazine, Rock Center, saw its small audience erode further while Dateline Friday saw its audience crater.1

NBC did hold its lead in evening news viewership, though its numbers were down from a year ago. In fact, CBS was the only network to increase evening viewers last year, where the continuing focus on harder news seemed to pay dividends with the evening audience, but not with the morning.

NBC News also experienced some rockiness off the air. It ended its 16-year partnership with Microsoft, gaining full ownership of the website and rebranding it In July, NBCUniversal reorganized its news operations, consolidating NBC News with CNBC, MSNBC and the Weather Channel. In January 2013, Steve Capus, the news division’s president, resigned. Then in February, Comcast bought the rest of General Electric’s 49% stake in NBC, about a year earlier than industry experts had expected.2 Other than some personnel changes, it remains to be seen what the effects of these changes will be.

All the networks pushed ahead in the digital space in 2012, with the presidential campaign proving to be a showcase for innovation. All three, for example, live-streamed coverage of the 2012 presidential conventions and debates. ABC and NBC were particularly aggressive on Facebook and Twitter in 2012, posting news updates throughout the day and soliciting public feedback about news stories. ABC also launched a new daily web show tied to its morning show called GMA Live, while CBS’ morning show introduced an online book club.

The question going forward as more of the network offerings become available on digital platforms is how they can monetize that content. While digital revenue is not broken out for the news divisions, the investment firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimated that in broadcast television overall, revenue from online and mobile platforms grew an estimated 25% in 2012.

On PBS, the evening NewsHour program lags well behind the three commercial network evening news programs in viewership, but it continued to implement significant digital innovations in 2012. That includes crowd-sourced translations of important speeches. While the NewsHour’s television viewership declined in 2012, the program’s digital audience grew substantially.

And in early 2013, PBS made news when word surfaced that it was considering producing 30-minute newscasts on Saturday and Sunday that would originate from New York. Weekend news programs would mark a first for the public television’s signature news show.

Evening News Audiences

Total viewership is the most financially significant measurement of how the different news programs are doing. And 2012 was a year of modest audience decline.

In the evening, an average of 22.1 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS or NBC.

That is a decrease of 418,200 viewers, or almost 2%, from the average viewership the year before, according to Pew Research analysis of data from Nielsen Media Research.

1 Evening News Audiences Decrease Over AllSEE FULL DATA SET

Among the three, CBS was the only one of the evening news programs to grow its audience in 2012. Continuing its upward trend of the last two years, The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley grew viewership 2.8% to an average of 6.14 million viewers in 2012. That is still markedly less than the average viewership at NBC and ABC, though both of those programs lost viewers in 2012.

2 Evening News Audiences Decrease at ABC and NBC, Rise at CBSSEE FULL DATA SET

ABC World News with Diane Sawyer lost an average of 327,600 viewers per night, or 4.2% of its audience. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams lost an average of 255,600 nightly viewers, or 2.9% of its audience, but still maintained its lead over second-place ABC by about one million viewers a night.

Part of the decline may be due to smaller lead-in audiences from local evening news programs, which declined across all three networks. In addition, some cite the fact that 2012 was a year of fewer major news events, compared with 2011, which witnessed the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the British royal wedding, the death of Osama bin Laden, the Arab Spring and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the mall shooting in Tucson.

One major event in 2012, the London Olympics, did temporarily boost the ratings of host network NBC.  Its Nightly News, which was broadcast from London during the Olympics, averaged 10.85 million viewers every night during the games—about two million more than it normally averages. That bulge drove NBC to its largest lead in viewers over its competitors since Nielsen started measuring with people meters in 1987.3

Network news audiences have been steadily eroding for more than three decades, with slight upticks in 1985, in 1992 and 2001, years in which major events, such as the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 attacks, helped boost viewership. Since 1980, the three commercial evening newscasts have lost about 27.4 million viewers, or 52.6%, of their audience.

While cable television news, which tends to focus more intensively on political coverage, saw primetime viewership grow by 3% in 2012, it still remains far behind network news in total numbers.4

a long term view of evening news viewershipSEE FULL DATA SET

Despite those losses, the network evening news is still a popular news source. In 2012, for example, more than four times as many people watched the three network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC than watched the highest-rated shows on the three cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) during prime time.5

Furthermore, more than twice as many people watch the lowest-rated broadcast evening news program, CBS Evening News (6.14 million) than watch the highest-rated cable news program, Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor (2.96 million).

The network evening news audience skews older than Americans over all. The average age of a regular network evening news viewer is 53 while the median age of the U.S. population in 2010 was 37, according to the U.S. Census.6 Over half, 52%, of the evening news audience is female, versus 51% of the survey population.7

For more information on network evening news audiences in 2012, including data on ratings and share for all three network news programs, visit the network data section.

Morning News Audiences

The overall morning news audience declined 4% in 2012 to 12.6 million viewers on average, down from 13.1 million in 2011. But the biggest story of the year was ABC’s Good Morning America edging out NBC’s Today for the first time since 1995.

The Today show’s long winning streak came to an end the week of April 9, 2012, when Good Morning America beat it by 31,000 viewers. GMA drew 5.168 million people on average, compared to 5.137 million for Today that week.8 ABC had gotten close before, most recently in 2005 and again in March 2012.9 And, in the important sweeps month of November, GMA won in total viewers – its first sweeps victory in 17 years.10

GMA also edged out the Today show for the year, averaging 4.918 million viewers per day (up 2.8% from 2011), versus Today’s 4.917 million (down 9.6% from 2011). The morning news programs are big profit centers for the network news divisions because they consume so much air time—two hours each on ABC and CBS and four hours on NBC. Being the No. 1 morning news show carries clout with advertisers; and this will give ABC the ability to charge higher advertising rates. It also affects programming – the No. 1 show often has a better chance of attracting the most coveted guests, or “gets,” as they are known.

viewership race narrows at ABC and NBC


In an attempt to generate buzz the first week of April, Today brought in former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as a co-host at the same time that former Today and CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric filled in on Good Morning America. Still, the very next week Today lost to GMA for the first time in 16 years.

Analysts and journalists attributed GMA’s success to several factors, including the rapport  among the GMA cast—Robin Roberts, Sam Champion, George Stephanopoulos, Lara Spencer and Diane Sawyer—and the behind-the-scenes tension at Today. NBC’s dismissal of Ann Curry in June seems to be a factor as well. Aside from the Summer Olympics, Today did not win a week in ratings after Curry left the show.11

GMA also heavily promoted one of the show’s cast members, Robin Roberts, over the year. Roberts, one of GMA’s hosts, was forced to leave the program temporarily in August 2012 to fight a life-threatening blood disease. She came back on air in February 2013 to great excitement after months of coverage of her condition and eventual return.

In third place, CBS’ morning news program continues to shed viewers.

In January 2012, the network tried to revive itself with a new morning news program, CBS This Morning, in place of The Early Show. Charlie Rose and Gayle King were brought in as co-anchors with Early Show holdover Erica Hill. Over the summer, though, Hill left the program and was replaced by CBS White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell.

Despite these changes, the audience for CBS This Morning still declined 4.8% to an average of 2.7 million viewers.

Since the departure of the CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric in June 2011 and the naming of 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager as head of the news division in February 2011, CBS has made an effort to focus on more “hard news” stories, and last year that was particularly evident in its morning news agenda. For example, stories about government made up 7.3% of CBS This Morning’s newshole for the first five months of 2012, compared to 3.7% at Today and 3.6% at GMA. And the election made up 30.3% of This Morning’s newshole compared to 25.4% at Today and 15.2% of GMA.

Furthermore, less than a half of one percent of CBS This Morning’s newshole was dedicated to celebrities and entertainment, whereas 3.5% of Good Morning America’s and 3.7% of Today’s was. “We’ll still have fun,” Chris Licht, the executive producer of the CBS show, told the New York Daily News. “We’ll do stories that are just entertaining. But maybe we’ll go a little longer on some of the serious interviews, a little more the 60 Minutes route.”12

The morning news audience is generally similar to the evening news audience, with one notable difference. More than six out of 10 morning news viewers (62%) are female compared with 52% female viewership in the evening. The average age of a regular morning news viewer is 52, slightly younger than that of the evening news viewer (53), according to a May 2012 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.13

News Magazine Audiences

Other than ABC’s 20/20 and NBC’s Dateline Sunday, all of the network news magazines declined in viewership in 2012, including the venerable 60 Minutes, which nevertheless remained one of the most-viewed programs on television in 2012.

12 News Magazine Viewership Drops for All but 2020 and Dateline SundaySEE FULL DATA SET

NBC’s highly anticipated Rock Center with Brian Williams launched on October 31, 2011, and lost viewers in 2012, averaging 3.8 million over the whole year. A comparison between the last two months of 2012 and 2011 shows a 4.9% decrease in viewers in 2012. Designed to be more of a serious prime-time newsmagazine than Dateline NBC, which focuses on crime stories, one of the show’s challenges has been the search for a permanent time slot. When it premiered, Rock Center aired Mondays at 10 p.m. It then switched to Wednesdays at 9 p.m., moved again, to Thursdays at 10 p.m., and most recently was slotted on Friday night at 10 p.m. On its first Friday night airing, Williams closed the show describing that day as Rock Center’s “last resting place.”

Dateline Sunday (which airs January through August) increased in viewership 9% to 5.2 million viewers on average in 2012. This was the second year in a row the show enjoyed increases in viewership. NBC’s other Dateline, the Friday edition, fared much worse with a 16.2% decrease to an average of 4.8 million viewers. This comes after a 5.2% decrease in 2011.

The oldest television news magazine, and the most popular by far, is CBS’ 60 Minutes. But it did experience its third straight year of dropping viewership in 2012, falling 4.2% to 11.1 million viewers on average. CBS’ other news magazine, 48 Hours, also saw a decrease in viewership, 7.2% down to 5 million viewers.

ABC’s 20/20 grew in viewership in 2012 by 5.4%, up to 5.2 million average viewers. And there was big news at the network’s other newsmagazine, the 33-year-old Nightline, which had been winning its late-night time slot. In 2011, ABC shortened Nightline to 25 minutes so that its late night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, could start at midnight. Then, in January 2013, ABC switched Nightline with Kimmel’s show, so that he could directly compete against The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC. This bumped Nightline to 12:35 a.m., but the network gave it back its full 30 minutes and an additional Friday prime- time slot at 9 p.m. starting in March 2013.

Analysts say Nightline’s future at the 12:35 a.m. time slot seems uncertain.

Sunday Morning Political Talk Show Audiences

These longtime staples of Sunday morning news, with their strong focus on Beltway policy and politics, garner a relatively high audience. The combined audience for the Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS and NBC for the second half of 2012 was 8.5 million people, not all that much smaller than the 12.6 million who watch one of the weekly morning news shows on those same networks. For the past 17 years, Fox has had its own Sunday morning talk show for its broadcast affiliates, Fox News Sunday, which came in fourth place with a little over a million viewers for the second half of 2012.

The shows also serve as a way to establish the tone and agenda of the political debate for the week. Often decision makers appear on these Sunday talk programs and their words are replayed and discussed throughout the week’s news. It is not uncommon for politicians to make major announcements on these programs as well, and presidential candidates make special effort to appear on all of the political affairs shows.  Indeed, one of the larger political controversies last year stemmed from comments UN Ambassador Susan Rice made on the Sunday talk shows in discussing the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Libya that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

In the heated battle for Sunday morning viewers, CBS’ Face the Nation—hosted by Bob Schieffer for more than two decades—emerged victorious. During the last six months of 2012, Face the Nation narrowly edged out Meet the Press by 34,000 viewers (2.97 million versus 2.94 million viewers on average). This Week came in a close third with 2.57 million viewers, and Fox News Sunday with 1.24 million viewers.

Face the Nation, in fact, had a larger audience on average in 2012 (2.97 million viewers) than that network’s daily morning news program, CBS This Morning (2.7 million).

The other programs saw anchor changes in recent years. ABC’s This Week is hosted by George Stephanopoulos, who took over from Christiane Amanpour in December 2011, and NBC’s Meet the Press is hosted by David Gregory, who took over from the late Tim Russert in 2008.

Meet the Press had long been the most popular – in 2006 it marked five years as the highest-rated Sunday program.14 But after the death of Russert, the show began to lose ground to its competition.  Since Russert’s final full season, Meet the Press has lost 20% of its audience, while Face the Nation gained 23% in the same time period. This Week still trailed the other two, but has improved on its ratings since Stephanopoulos took over hosting.15 15 Face the Nation Edges Out Meet the Press in Viewership



Determining the economic health of a network news division is a challenge. Networks do not publicly break out financial data for their news divisions.

Overall revenue of network television, beyond just news, grew in 2012. Kantar Media reported that broadcast television advertising revenue increased 10.6% for the first nine months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.16

According to estimates from the investment firm of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, advertising accounts for about 84% of overall network television revenue, with income from online and mobile platforms accounting for 12%.


Disney, ABC’s parent company, breaks down revenue for its different entities, but not specifically for ABC News. Disney’s media networks—which include ABC, international and domestic cable television networks, television production operations, distribution, local stations, domestic radio networks and publishing and digital operations —had a 4% increase in overall revenue in its 2012 fiscal year (which ended September 29, 2012), bringing that total to $19.4 billion. But the broadcast components alone lost 4% to $3.9 billion for fiscal year 2012. (In the quarter after that, ending December 29, 2012, revenues for the broadcasting arm of the network increased 6% compared to 2011.)  According to the company’s filings with the SEC, some of that loss in the first nine months of the year was due to lower ABC prime-time ratings.

One area of potential revenue growth at ABC News is in the morning. According to estimates from Horizon Media ABC’s Good Morning America brought in $298 million in ad revenue compared to the Today show’s $848 million in 2011.17 Now that GMA has moved into first place, even by the narrowest of margins, it should begin to command more advertising dollars in that time period.

In 2011, Pew Research estimated that ABC’s news division revenues were about $650 million. If revenue at ABC News followed the same general trajectory as Disney’s overall broadcast arm, it would have declined 4% in the 2012 fiscal year, meaning that its revenues would be in the neighborhood of $624 million. But the strong start for the broadcast arm in the first quarter of the 2013 fiscal year could mean an uptick in revenues at the network news division.


When it comes to setting advertising rates, CBS has an advantage because it is the most popular network in prime time.

Over all, the CBS Corporation, according to the company’s SEC filings, enjoyed a 3% increase in revenue, to $14.1 billion in 2012 compared with 2011. This includes not just the CBS broadcast network, but also revenue from cable channels, including Showtime, as well as local television and radio operations, book publishing and outdoor advertising, according to SEC filings.

Entertainment revenue, which includes income from the CBS network, had a 3% increase to $7.7 billion in 2012, according to the company’s SEC filing. This was due to higher revenues from the licensing of television programs, driven by higher licensing revenues from digital streaming as well as domestic and international syndication and greater network affiliation fees. Advertising revenue also increased slightly.

In 2011, Pew Research estimated that CBS News earned about $430 million in revenue. If its revenue trajectory mirrored that of the company’s entertainment division, it would have also seen 3% growth in 2012, bringing revenue up to about $443 million.


NBC has a broader revenue model than the other networks since its parent company owns eight cable channels, including several that are not news related. Cable networks earn revenue from subscription fees while broadcast channels cannot. In 2012, NBCUniversal’s cable networks, not limited just to news, earned a combined $8.8 billion in revenue.

Three of those cable channels fall under NBC News—MSNBC, CNBC and CNBC World (an international business channel). This means NBC News can spread costs of its news division across more platforms, and not be dependent solely on broadcast advertising.

By Pew Research estimates, CNBC contributes more revenue to NBC News than any other unit, even though it has much smaller audiences than the NBC broadcast network.

SNL Kagan projects total net revenue at CNBC of $751 million in 2012, up 6% from 2011. MSNBC’s revenue was projected at $443 million, a 6% increase from 2011. And CNBC World’s revenue was projected at $23 million, a 22% increase from the year before.18

NBC’s broadcast arm—which includes the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks and locally owned stations—brought in $8.2 billion in revenue in 2012, a hefty 27% increase from 2011. The broadcast arm earned $5.8 billion in advertising revenue in 2012, a 37% increase from the previous year, with $1.2 billion of that coming from Olympic and Super Bowl ad revenue. NBC’s parent company reported that excluding those two mega-events, overall revenue was up only 4.5% over the previous year.

In 2011, Pew Research estimated that broadcast news revenue at NBC News totaled a little less than $860 million. If broadcast news dollars grew at about the same rate as the company’s entire broadcast arm, excluding the Olympics and Super Bowl, it would have gained another 4.5% in 2012, to about $900 million.  NBC’s total news revenue, combining both cable and broadcast, comes to about $2.1 billion in 2012, up from about $2 billion in 2011.

Personnel Changes and Staffing

All three networks saw some changes in staffing and management in 2012, but the shifts were most significant at NBC.


In a controversial move, co-anchor Ann Curry was dismissed from the Today show in June 2012. Savannah Guthrie, who had co-hosted the 9 a.m. hour of the show for a year, took her place. Curry became the NBC News national and international correspondent/anchor and Today anchor at large, but has not been seen much on the network since leaving the Today show.19

Perhaps the biggest news was the departure of news division president Steve Capus in early 2013, which seemed to be part of a bigger change of the corporate structure.

In July, Steve Burke, then the NBCUniversal chief, sent out a staff memo announcing that NBC would have a new division called the NBCUniversal News Group, composed of NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and the Weather Channel, headed by Pat Fili-Krushel as the group’s chairwoman. Fili-Krushel previously was an executive vice president of NBCUniversal. She also had experience as an executive at ABC, where she ran the ABC television network, including ABC News, but she does not have direct experience in television news.20

That change in structure resulted in a series of subsequent changes in staffing. Capus, then the news president, as well as CNBC president Mark Hoffman and MSNBC president Phil Griffin all reported to Fili-Krushel.21 But Capus was not happy with this new arrangement, and in February 2013, resigned from his position. At time of publishing of this report, the position had not yet been filled.22

Antoine Sanfuentes, Capus’ deputy was tagged to replace him in the interim. He had been the news division’s Washington bureau chief, and was promoted to vice president of NBC News in October 2012. With that move, David Verdi was promoted to vice president of newsgathering, giving him oversight of NBC’s affiliate partnerships, and Ken Strickland became the Washington bureau chief.

In November 2012, NBC picked Alexandra Wallace to lead the Today show. Wallace had been the executive producer of the Nightly News from 2007 to 2009 and remains in her position as executive producer of Rock Center, a position she started in October.23 (Patrick Burkey is now the executive producer of Nightly News, a position he has held since 2011.) Don Nash joined Wallace as executive producer of Today in December, replacing Jim Bell, who left for a job at NBC Olympics. Nash had previously been a senior broadcast producer of the Today show. Bell was partly blamed for removing Ann Curry from Today’s anchor desk and replacing her with Savannah Guthrie.24

In July 2012, Microsoft and NBC separated from their online partnership when Comcast bought Microsoft’s 50% stake in the shared website, Most of the 300 employees working for the site stayed on with NBC after the acquisition, according to The New York Times. About 70 of them already worked in New York, where NBC News is based. Most of the other editorial employees were moved to New York. The roughly 100-member technical staff, including engineers and web developers, stayed in Washington State in a new office NBC is calling the NBC News Innovation Center.25


ABC shuffled staff in 2012 and introduced some new programming.

As a trial, Good Afternoon America aired for nine weeks starting in April when an ABC daytime show, The Revolution was canceled and before Katie Couric’s syndicated talk show began in September. Good Afternoon America was modeled after Good Morning America and was hosted by GMA’s Josh Elliott and Lara Spencer, with appearances from other GMA staff members.26

Some of the more significant staff changes at the network involved journalists who made the jump from broadcast to cable. In 2012 White House correspondent Jake Tapper and 20/20 co-anchor Chris Cuomo both left for CNN.


At CBS, a number of the personnel changes involved the rollout of the new morning show, CBS This Morning, which debuted with co-anchors Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill in January 2012. In August, CBS pulled Hill from the anchor desk and put the network’s chief White House correspondent, Norah O’Donnell, in her place.

In addition, Byran Pitts, a contributor to 60 Minutes and chief national correspondent for the CBS Evening News left the network in March 2013 for ABC News, where he will be chief national correspondent and anchor.

For more on the staffing changes at the different networks, visit here.

News Content

An examination of the content of network news programs based on data for the first five months of 2012 reveals substantially different news agendas for the morning and evening network newscasts as well as some distinctions by network. These decisions about which topics and stories to cover reflect, on the one hand, the editorial differences dictated by time slot—traditionally, the morning shows air “softer” more lifestyle-oriented coverage than their evening counterparts. But at the individual network level, they also represent branding efforts to distinguish one newscast from another.

Typically, some of stories that generated more attention in the morning in 2012 were celebrity scandals, such as the death of singer Whitney Houston (2% of the newshole compared with less than 1% in the evening) and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards’ extramarital affair (3% compared with 1% in the evening). At the same time, the presidential campaign was a substantially bigger story in the morning (22% of the newshole) than in the evening (14%). This can be at least partly explained by the fact that the results of major campaign events, such as debates and primary elections, are not known until nighttime, well after the evening newscasts have concluded.

Conversely, in the evening several major news topics generated more attention than in the morning, including the economy (7% of the evening newshole vs. 3% of the morning newshole) and unrest in the Middle East (4% vs. 2%).

21 Networks Air More Election News on Morning ShowsSEE FULL DATA SET

Another way to examine news agendas and priorities is to see where news stories originated. In the first five months of 2012, the amount of foreign datelines for the three networks combined decreased sharply, by 30% compared with 2011. That may reflect the number of big overseas news events that occurred in 2011.

24 Foreign Datelines Decrease at All NetworksSEE FULL DATA SET

At the individual network level, the news agendas for the ABC, CBS and NBC evening programs differed somewhat in 2012. Perhaps the most obvious distinction was ABC’s tendency to devote the most coverage to lifestyle-oriented and entertainment stories while CBS devoted the least.

When it came to more traditional hard news topics in the first five months of 2012, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News both filled 15% of their airtime with news about campaigns and elections, whereas ABC World News filled less, 12%, of its newshole with the same subject. Government news accounted for 8% of its newshole on NBC, compared with 5% at CBS and 4% at ABC.

Looking at lighter topics, ABC World News devoted 11% of its newshole to lifestyle stories, compared with 6% at NBC Nightly News and 2% at CBS Evening News. News about celebrities and entertainment filled 2% of the newshole at ABC, 1% at NBC and less than half of a percentage point at CBS.

A separate Pew Research examination of the structure or formatting of the network newscasts reveals remarkably little change in the programming formula over the years.

The analysis of content in 2007 and 2012 found that in the evening, there was virtually no shift in the percentage of airtime devoted to story packages, which dominate those newscasts—82% in 2007 compared with 79% in 2012. The same stability was seen in the use of interviews, which decreased from 6% in 2007 to 4% in 2012 and in live staff reports, which edged up from 3% in 2007 to 4% in 2012.

And while the morning news program formats differ noticeably from those in the evening, here too there was negligible change over the years. The percentage of airtime on the morning news shows allotted to packages inched up from 51% in 2007 to 53% in 2012 while interview time diminished slightly from 29% to 27%.

The study also showed that story lengths for the evening newscasts have not budged either. In 2007, the average evening story package lasted 141 seconds. In 2012, it lasted 142 seconds.

For more on network news content, visit a study of network news content, here.


The three commercial broadcast networks with news divisions looked toward digital ventures to expand their audiences in 2012. A big part of this in 2012 related to the coverage of the presidential campaign. Among other things they streamed coverage online of the nominating conventions since they covered less of it on television than in 2008. Twitter and Facebook were also used more by the networks to cover the election in 2012 than in 2008. For example, NBC flashed tweets at the bottom of TV screens during convention coverage and set up hashtags to gather tweets.

At the same time, the networks seemed to project different digital strategies and identities. ABC has attempted to experiment more, as evidenced by its recent partnership with Yahoo.  CBS News’ online presence by comparison, is quite basic. And NBC News may have had the most significant digital development in 2012 when it underwent a major restructuring of its website, the full implications of which are still not known.

Digital Audiences

Comprehensively measuring digital audience across the various digital platforms is already difficult and for network news became all the more challenging in 2012 as NBC took full ownership of and ABC News began a content partnership with Yahoo, which combined the two websites in traffic counts.

The merger gave ABC an edge as two of the three main metric organizations rank it above the other two.

Both comScore and Nielsen rank ABC News first while NBC ranked first according to Hitwise (CBS was not included in the Hitwise count because it was not one of its top 25 sites).

It is difficult to compare online audiences for the news networks in 2012 compared with 2011. ABC’s online news visitors are now combined with Yahoo’s, because of their partnership established in 2012. NBC figures are also not comparable year to year as in 2011; NBC News’ sites were still part of MSNBC. For CBS, the one network with comparable data, there was clear growth –By comScore’s measurement, CBS News’ average monthly unique visitors, 39.29 million in 2012, was almost twice as it was in 2011 (19.9 million).27 25 Network Online Audiences

A major question for the networks going forward is how to monetize their digital traffic.

The networks do not release online revenue data, but there are estimates for online revenue for the broadcast networks overall. Veronis Suhler Stevenson has estimated that in 2012, that combined online revenue for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and CW as well as Hispanic networks equaled $6.3 billion, an increase of 25% from 2011. That represents 12% of the total broadcast revenue.

All three networks also had a presence on both Twitter and Facebook in 2012. These sites provide ways for networks to disseminate news and for audiences to communicate with news networks, programs and personalities.

On Twitter and Facebook, the network news divisions provide frequent news updates. Facebook updates from the news networks often ask viewers to comment on stories, asking people to weigh in with their own thoughts.

The nightly news and morning news programs also have separate social media presences. On both Twitter and Facebook, ABC World News and NBC Nightly News update throughout the day, but CBS Evening News posts only around its evening news broadcast.

For morning shows on Facebook, all three programs provided multiple updates throughout the day, but the Today show and Good Morning America both asked their followers questions about news stories and viewer opinions. Good Morning America also provided behind-the-scenes photos on its Facebook page.

The network morning news shows on Twitter often retweet their anchors and reporters news tweets. And in light of Robin Roberts’ (@RobinRoberts) illness, Good Morning America had a #TeamRobin hashtag.

Network news magazines also had a social media presence in 2012, as did many news personalities on each network.

The specific digital developments and strategies of the three networks in 2012 varied.

At ABC News, experimentation is a “main focus” of the company’s digital strategy.28 ABC News for example, in July 2010 became the first broadcast news organization to release an app for iPad and launched its Android app in June 2011. In 2012, its main experiment came in the partnership with Yahoo. The company also has a partnership with Univision in an English-language news website geared toward Hispanic Americans. That venture’s 24-hour news channel, Fusion, is expected to launch in the second half of 2013.

“The market is continuing to grow and shift — there are new entrants, new user expectations, new technologies — and we have to continue to try new things just to stay current, but also to learn how to optimize ABC News experiences going forward,” ABC News Digital’s senior vice president, Joe Ruffolo, told Poynter.29

Among other activity on ABC’s digital properties:

  • ABC News released a Kindle Fire app for its news content in July 2012. According to the network, ABC News’ mobile traffic tripled since releasing apps on Android, iPhone and iPad. The Kindle app provides top news headlines, live news video and integrated social media tools.30
  • In December 2012, ABC News launched a live daily web show tied to its Good Morning America franchise. The 15-minute show, called GMA Live, streams on at 9:15 a.m. on weekdays and is also available on demand.31
  • Another way ABC News used technology in 2012 was Your Voice This Week, a segment of This Week that gave viewers the chance to ask George Stephanopoulos questions on Facebook and Twitter and even share photos with the show using Twitter hashtags.
  • For the political conventions, ABC aired 30-plus hours of coverage online on, Yahoo, Yahoo News,, and its iPad and iPhone apps. According to The Associated Press, ABC News’ online convention coverage mimicked a television newscast.
  • For the presidential election, ABC News provided a social analysis partnered with Yahoo News’ The Signal to track hot topics on social media, Google Plus hangouts with key voting groups, a Storify feed with social media reactions and After, an anchored online morning program produced the day after each event that provided a wrap-up of what happened.
  • In addition to its over-the-air coverage, ABC News online provide a separate stream of original digital-only programming hosted by GMA Weekend anchor Dan Harris, ABC News political director Amy Walter and Oliver Knox, who was then the Yahoo News White House correspondent.
  • On mobile devices, ABC News saw traffic grow on election night, with 450,000 live video streams.32 That night it also provided alerts to mobile users with geographic targeting, so alerts went out to the people in specific states.

CBS’ digital offerings are not as flashy as its competitions’, composed largely of apps for its main news outlets and extra online content for 60 Minutes on both computers and mobile devices. Its 2012 innovations were mostly focused on providing more streaming coverage from its website rather than branching out into new online programs or partnerships.

  • For the 2012 presidential election, live-streamed network coverage and results online on election night. It also provided interactive maps and exit poll data for viewers.
  • For the political conventions, also aired the full conventions online, in addition to pre- and post-broadcast webcasts.
  • In October, CBS released CBS This Morning Reads, an online venture to connect CBS This Morning viewers with authors. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln was the first book chosen for the online book club.

NBC saw significant changes to its digital lineup in 2012, including renaming and restructuring its website and releasing a number of new digital products. These changes were overseen by Vivian Schiller, the former NPR president hired to head up the NBC News Digital division in 2011.33

In July 2012, NBC News acquired full control of, renaming it Untangling the two will take “at least two years,” according to an NBC News article.34

The joint ownership of by NBC and Microsoft seemed to work at first, but the companies moved apart over time, with different priorities and changes in the media business straining the collaboration, according to reports. (Not to mention that they’re physically far apart, too: Microsoft is in Washington State and NBC is headquartered in New York City.)

The change should end some brand confusion that existed between the properties since MSNBC is a cable channel with a prime-time lineup filled with liberal hosts and NBC is more of a traditional broadcast news organization. In July 2012, became, and in early 2013, reemerged as a site just for the cable channel. Comcast now owns the entire digital business of NBC News.

In October 2012, NBC News Digital announced that would be overseen by Gregory Gittrich, led by Jennifer Brown and MSNBC’s new site would be overseen by Richard Wolffe. Wolffe was already a journalist and analyst for MSNBC and will report to Schiller on operations but MSNBC president Phil Griffin on the editorial side. The other two will report to Schiller.35

For the election, NBC streamed coverage on and, but also used some other tools to report election news.

  • The Zeebox social TV platform was used to push custom content to tablet users.
  • Microsoft’s Xbox platform was used to engage viewers, using live streaming capabilities and on-demand video from the NBC News Xbox app and dashboard to push to users.
  • Crimson Hexagon technology was used to measure public reaction on Twitter and Facebook on Election Day. It also pulled Instagram posts on to make an interactive map of photos.
  • In addition to livestreaming convention coverage for both conventions, NBC hosted online hangouts with some of its correspondents on Google Plus.
  • NBC News also provided a Storify page that culled social media content about the presidential race.
  • NBC News partners and also provided convention coverage on their sites.

Elsewhere on NBC’s digital field, new programs and partnerships emerged in 2012.

Dateline, the 20-year old newsmagazine, launched in July Dateline Chatline a social app aimed at increasing discussion of the program’s reports online. It brings together Twitter and Facebook discussions of Dateline’s programming to an app so viewers can discuss the show with strangers online, while watching the show.36 NBC Sports Group and Yahoo announced a content and promotional partnership in December. The two groups remained separate entities, but create original, made-for-web programming to appear on both websites.37

In February 2013, NBC closed its hyperlocal site EveryBlock. The site allowed users to search for news stories by typing in addresses, zip codes or neighborhoods and was started under a grant from the Knight News Challenge in 2007. After that grant ended in 2009, EveryBlock was acquired by MSNBC. NBC News got ownership of the site when it acquired full control of in summer 2012. Despite owning the site, NBC’s presence was limited to a small NBC logo on the site, leaving EveryBlock as an independent brand.

EveryBlock “is a wonderful scrappy business but it wasn’t a strategic fit with our growth strategy and — like most hyperlocal businesses — was struggling with the business model,” Schiller told Poynter.38


While NewsHour, PBS’ main news program, lost audience in 2012, the program grew in online traffic and offered a number of innovations.


The NewsHour draws a much smaller audience than the network news programs on the commercial networks, as does most programming on PBS, the public broadcaster.

The NewsHour attracted an average of 977,000 viewers nightly during the 2011-12 season, according to the program’s research department, an 8.4% decrease from 1.1 million in the 2010-11 season and the lowest since at least 2008.39 The PBS NewsHour has an older audience. For the last five months of 2012, its audience’s median age ranged from 64 to 66.

PBS News Viewership Falls


The NewsHour’s ratings also decreased, from 0.7 to 0.68. (Ratings are the percentage of households with TVs turned to a given program.)

PBS had better success online.

Page views on the PBS NewsHour website were up 21%, to 38.8 million in the 2011-12 television season from 32.2 million the season before. NewsHour attributes the increase partly to the presidential campaign bringing more eyes to its website. NewsHour cited Google Analytics traffic data showing heavy visits to the site’s Vote 2012 coverage and economic reporting. The Vote 2012 site was also heavily featured in NewsHour’s broadcast coverage, which may have amplified its traffic. The Rundown, the site’s primary news blog, saw page views increase 42% in 2012. And the “Shields and Brooks” debate segment, which also airs on the NewsHour’s Friday night broadcast, saw more than double the website visits in 2012 as it did in 2011.40

News Investment

One of the big changes at PBS occurred in June 2012, when Jim Lehrer greatly reduced his NewsHour anchor role, cutting back to once-weekly appearances. Lehrer joined the show as a correspondent in 1975 and, according to The Washington Post, had anchored about 8,000 broadcasts.

Instead of having a solo anchor, the show turned to a revolving team of correspondents who anchor in teams of two: Ray Suarez, Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown and Margaret Warner. Lehrer anchors on Fridays and moderates Mark Shields and David Brooks’ weekly review.41 The program had already returned to a two-anchor setup in 2009 when it also took Lehrer’s name off of the title of the show, easing the transition. The overall staff size remained stable, including at the satellite offices in Denver and San Francisco.

In March 2013, PBS announced that it was considering adding a weekend edition of NewsHour for the first time. Instead of being produced in the program’s studios in Arlington, Va., production for the weekend editions would be in New York. The program is planned to run a half-hour on Saturdays and Sundays. PBS would provide MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, the show’s producer, $3 million to produce the weekend edition.42

Election Coverage

The NewsHour devoted considerably more attention to the presidential conventions than its commercial broadcast network competition, with coverage from 8 p.m. until about 11 p.m. each day, whereas the three commercial network news operations condensed coverage to an hour. Convention coverage for NewsHour was anchored by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, making them the first pair of female journalists to co-anchor coverage of the major party conventions.

In addition to the broadcasts, the NewsHour provided further analysis of the conventions online with a 24-hour live stream and several other digital initiatives. One of these, The Political Checklist, was an online morning show in which NewsHour’s political editor, Christian Bellatoni, provided a summaryof the convention. The NewsHour also streamed a midday show, Noon Update, that went over the day’s convention agenda. Another online program was The Doubleheader, with political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks along with correspondent Hari Sreenivasan discussing “the sport of politics – and the politics of sport.” The NewsHour website also provided interviews with delegates, party leaders and voters as well as its Breakfast Panel Discussion with up-and-coming politicians, activists and party leaders.

PBS continued its project of crowdsourcing translations of convention speeches, State of the Union speeches and more, into various languages through a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant of $420,000 and an extended partnership with Mozilla and the Participatory Culture Foundation.43 NewsHour asks its social media followers to volunteer to translate speeches using a free online tool. Those volunteers have helped to translate over 200 speeches into more than 50 languages.44

The NewsHour site also had a popular Political Party Quiz (a partnership with Pew Research) and an “AdLibs” widget that allowed users to create customized political ads based on their Facebook data.


The PBS NewsHour has become more dependent on foundations for funding in recent years. Three years ago, corporate underwriting made up 40% of the show’s total funding and foundation grants made up 30%. For the 2012-13 season, that more than flipped as corporate underwriting represented less than 20% of funding, while foundations made up 40%.

According to The New York Times, NewsHour faced a shortfall of as much as $7 million in fiscal year 2013 from what had been a $28 million budget.45

The shift has occurred through both a decline in revenue from corporate sponsors and an increase in foundation support. For the 2012-13 season, the show will receive funding from at least six corporations, on par with as far back as 2009 season. But they are giving smaller amounts – and over a shorter period of time.

At the same time, foundation grants and funding from foundations have grown. PBS NewsHour now has over 30 foundation grants in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Those foundations include the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It also receives funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In March 2012, the NewsHour developed a “Friends of the NewsHour” initiative, a collaborative effort with local PBS stations to raise major gift donations from individuals.

In a separate corporate underwriting development effort, NewsHour is working with WETA in Washington and WBGH in Boston as well as National Public Media to raise more money for the program.

Other PBS News Programs

The Nightly Business Report, a show that had struggled in recent years, was sold to CNBC in February 2013. CNBC is the show’s third owner in as many years. In 2010, Miami public television station WPBT sold to Mykalai Kontilai, an entrepreneur and former mixed martial arts manager. Atalaya Capital Management, a hedge fund and Kontilai’s backer, took over in 2011.

PBS withdrew its financial support of Nightly Business Report in 2011 and stopped distributing it. American Public Television took over distribution of the show.

Rating decreases and Nightly Business Report’s only financial underwriter, Franklin Templeton Investments, pulling out in August, resulted in layoffs and the closure of the show’s Chicago Bureau.

In March 2013, the show moved production from its Miami home to CNBC’s New Jersey facilities. The format of Nightly Business Report stayed the same, despite the move. CNBC’s Tyler Mathisen joined existing co-anchor Susie Gharib at the anchor desk, but co-anchor Tom Hudson and 18 staff members left the program.

Another program, the Friday night public affairs show Need to Know, faces cancellation in June when its PBS contract expires. Production fees for that show, plus money its producing station, WNET, raised from donors would go to NewsHour if the show is canceled.46



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  2. Kondolojy, Amanda. “Tuesday Final Ratings: Final Broadcast Election Numbers.” TV by the Numbers. Nov. 8, 2012.
  3. Carter, Bill. “ ’NBC Nightly News’ Adds Three Million Viewers From Olympics.” The New York Times. Aug. 7, 2012.
  4. In median prime time viewership for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News combined.
  5. In 2012, these shows were The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, Piers Morgan on CNN and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Combined, their audience was 4.7 million people.
  6. Howden, Lindsay M. and Meyer, Julie A. “Age and Sex Composition: 2010.” U.S. Census Bureau. May 2011. And email from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
  7. In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable.” Pew Research Center. Sept. 27, 2012.
  8. Molloy, Tim. “ ’GMA’ Weeklong Win Over ‘Today’ Confirmed; First Win in 16 Years.” The Wrap. April 19, 2012.
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  10. Bibel, Sara. “ ’Good Morning America’ Wins the November Sweep for the First Time in Nearly Two Decades.” ABC News Press Release.
  11. Stelter, Brian. “New Down in Morning Television: ‘GMA’ Bests ‘Today’ in September Ratings Race.” The New York Times. Oct. 4, 2012.
  12. Hinckley, David. “ ’CBS This Morning’ Exec Producer Says the Third-Place Morning Show Offers ‘Fresh Eyes.’” Daily News. Aug. 22, 2012.
  13. In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable.” The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Sept. 27, 2012. And Pew Research Center for the People & the Press email to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
  14. Tim Russert Hits Ratings Milestone.” The Associated Press. April 24, 2006.
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  24. ’Today’ Show Exec Jim Bell, Responsible for Ann Curry’s Firing, About to Get Ousted?” Fox News. Nov. 13, 2012.
  25. Stelter, Brian. “Months of Transition Ahead for NBC News Online.” The New York Times. July 17, 2012.
  26. Seltzer, Louisa Ada. “Say Hello to ‘Good Afternoon America.’” Media Life Magazine. July 9, 2012.
  27. Nielsen’s methodology changes make their numbers incomparable year-to-year and 2011 figures from Hitwise are not available.
  28. Tenore, Mallary Jean. “How ABC News Built a Top Social Media Presence With a Small Dedicated Team.” Poynter. Jan. 24, 2012.
  29. Tenore, Mallary Jean. “How ABC News Built a Top Social Media Presence With a Small Dedicated Team.” Poynter. Jan. 24, 2012.
  30. ABC News App Now Available on Amazon’s Kindle Fire.” ABC News. July 24, 2012.
  31. Weprin, Alex. “ABC News Launching ‘GMA Live’ Web Show.” TV Newser. Dec. 6, 2012.
  32. Villarosa, Curt. “ABC News-Yahoo! News Live, Digital Coverage Served Nearly 10 Million Live Video Streams on Election Night 2012.” ABC News press release. Nov. 9, 2012.
  33. Johnson, M. Alex. “ Becomes” July 16, 2012.
  34. Johnson, M. Alex. “ Becomes” July 16, 2012.
  35. Byers, Dylan. “NBC News Names Executive Online Editors.” Politico. Oct. 2, 2012.
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  39. The average audience for the 2009-10 season was 1,058,000 viewers. For the 2010-11 season it was 1,067,000.
  40. PBS Research.
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