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Network: By the Numbers

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

“By the Numbers” houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.

Evening News Audiences

After experiencing the first overall audience increase in a decade in 2011, network news audiences declined in 2012.

In the evening, an average of 22.1 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS or NBC in 2012, down 1.9% from 22.5 million in 2011.

1 Evening News Audiences Decrease Over AllSEE FULL DATA SET

ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams both fell in viewership in 2012 (ABC decreased by 4.2% and NBC fell by 2.9%), while the third-ranked CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley went up by 2.8%.

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

Ratings, the percentage of households with TVs turned to a given program, were fairly flat in 2012. Combined average ratings for the three network evening news programs fell to 15.6 million in November 2012, from 15.8 million in November 2011.

NBC Nightly News led the other two programs in ratings for yet another year. ABC came in second in the ratings, followed by CBS, but the latter two grew modestly in ratings in 2012 while NBC remained the same.

3 CBS and NBC Ratings Grow


Another measure of audience is share, which renders the newscast audience as a percentage of all households watching television during that time slot. Share was relatively flat in 2012, too. On average for the year it was 29.3 in 2012, down from 29.6 in 2011.1

When looking just at November, ABC’s share increased in 2012 to 11, tying with NBC for the first time since 2009. NBC’s share remained stable at 11 and CBS’ remained steady at 8.

4 ABC and NBC Tied for Share

Individual Networks: Evening News

ABC World News with Diane Sawyer saw dips in all audience measures in 2012. It lost an average of 327,600 viewers, or 4.2% of its audience in 2012, to 7.5 million viewers, on average. Ratings fell 4% to 5 and share fell by less than 1% to 10.2.

5 ABC World News Audience Decreases by All MeasuresSEE FULL DATA SET

The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, which has the smallest audience of the three evening news programs, was the only one to grow in 2012 – and it grew by all measures. Viewership for the Evening News increased by 2.8%, or 165,000 viewers, to an average of 6.14 million viewers. Ratings grew by 5% to 4.2 and share rose 2.5% to 8.1. This was the second year in a row that the CBS Evening News grew by all audience measurements.

6 CBS Evening News Grows by All Measures


 NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which remained in first place among the evening news programs, lost an average of 255,600 viewers or 2.9% of its audience to 8.5 million viewers. Its ratings remained steady at 5.7 and its share decreased 2.7% to 11.

7 NBC Nightly News Decreases in Some Measures


Individual Networks: Morning News

While the battle for viewers intensified on morning news shows in 2012, the overall audience dropped   in 2012. An average of 12.6 million people tuned into one of the three network morning shows in 2012, down 4% from 13.1 million in 2011.

8 Morning News Viewership DipsSEE FULL DATA SET

ABC’s Good Morning America edged out NBC’s Today Show for the first time in 16 years. Viewership at Good Morning America grew by an average of 135,100 viewers or 2.8% to 4.918 million.  Ratings remained stable at 3.6 and share grew by 5.3% to 13.9.

9 ABC's Good Morning America Viewership and Share GrowSEE FULL DATA SET

A new morning news show, CBS This Morning, debuted in January 2013. Its predecessor, The CBS Early Show, had been in third place and CBS This Morning actually did somewhat worse, slipping in viewership and share. Its viewership decreased by an average of 138,400 viewers, or 4.8%, in 2012 to 2.7 million. Its ratings remained stable at 2.1 and share dipped 1.2% to 8.2

10 CBS This Morning Debuts in Third PlaceSEE FULL DATA SET

Long the most popular network morning news show, NBC’s Today Show, dropped across all measures in 2012. Its viewership decreased by an average of 521,900 viewers or 9.6% to 4.917 million, falling slightly behind ABC’s Good Morning America. Its ratings declined 5% to 3.8 and share fell 8% to 13.8.

11 NBC's Today Show Dips by All Audience MeasuresSEE FULL DATA SET


 TV News Magazine Audience

Most television news magazine audiences declined again in 2012, but a couple of shows had increases in audience.

ABC’s 20/20 had an increase of 266,000 viewers or 5.4% in 2012 to 5.2 million viewers. Its ratings also grew 6% to an average of 3.5 and its share increased 2.8% to an average of 6.1.

ABC’s other newsmagazine Nightline, which had been winning its 11:30 p.m. (Eastern) time slot,  was pushed back to 12:35 a.m. starting in January 2013 to make way for  late night talk host Jimmy Kimmel to go head-to-head against Jay Leno (NBC) and David Letterman (CBS). Despite winning its timeslot, Nightline dipped in viewership by 222,300 viewers or 5.7% to 3.7 million. Nightline’s ratings dipped 3% to an average of 2.6 for the year and its share dropped 3%, to an average of 6.1.

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

On CBS, the long-time leader among newsmagazine shows, 60 Minutes, declined in viewership by an average of 483,900 viewers or 4.2% to 11.1 million average viewers. Its ratings dipped 2.6% to 7.1 and its share dropped 5.3% to 11.9.

CBS’ other news magazine, 48 Hours (which is called 48 Hours Mystery from January through September every year) also experienced a decrease in viewership, losing an average of 388,100 viewers or 7.2% in 2012 to 5 million. Ratings dropped 3.7% to 3.5 and share dropped 4.9% to 6.5.

13 Most News Magazines Dip in RatingsSEE FULL DATA SET

Dateline NBC’s Sunday edition was the only other newsmagazine that had an increase in viewership in 2012. The program grew by an average of 425,300 viewers or 9% to 5.2 million viewers. Its ratings rose 10% to 3.4 and its share grew 4.5% to an average of 5.8.

Dateline NBC’s Friday edition was an entirely different story. Its viewership decreased an average of 925,100 or 16.2% to 4.8 million – the largest loss among the news magazines. Its ratings fell 14.5% to 3.3 and its share dropped 14.3% to 6.

The network’s newest news magazine, Rock Center with Brian Williams, has struggled with ratings, averaging 3.8 million viewers for the whole year of 2012. Comparing just the two months it aired in 2011 with the last two months in 2012, it was down 4.9% in 2012. Its ratings averaged 2.6 for the year, unchanged from the previous year, and its share was 4.4, up 10% from 4.0. The show has flipped around to different timeslots in its short life: When it premiered, it aired Mondays at 10 p.m. and moved to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. only three months later. A few months after that, it moved to Thursdays at 10 p.m. And in February 2013, it moved to Fridays at 10 p.m.

14 Share Decreases for Most NewsmagazinesSEE FULL DATA SET

Sunday Morning Political Talk Show Audience

In the last six months of 2012, the race for viewers between the three Sunday network political talk shows was close, with Face the Nation on CBS averaging 2.97 million viewers, barely edging out NBC’s Meet the Press with 2.94 million viewers on average. ABC’s This Week came in third with 2.57 million viewers. Fox has had its own Sunday morning talk show for its broadcast affiliates, Fox News Sunday, which came in fourth place with 1.24 million viewers for the second half of 2012.

15 Face the Nation Edges Out Meet the Press in Viewership


When looking at ratings for the three shows, Face the Nation and Meet the Press were tied at 2.2 with This Week close behind at 1.9. Fox News Sunday’s ratings were 0.9.

16 Face the Nation and Meet the Press Ratings Tied


But when looking at share, Meet the Press garnered the largest share of the audience with 6.2, with Face the Nation in second with a share of 5.7, This Week in third with 5.0 and Fox News Sunday with 2.3.

17 Close Race for Share Among Some Sunday Morning Shows


Figuring out the economics for the three network news divisions is a challenge since networks do not break out financial data for their news divisions publicly. Some market research firms do break down the revenue for network television overall. One, Kantar Media, estimated that over all the network television advertising revenue increased 10.6% for the first nine months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.2

According to estimates from the market research firm of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, advertising accounted for about 84% of overall network television revenue in 2012, with income from online and mobile platforms accounting for another 12% and retransmission fees 4%.3 18 Breakdown of Broadcast Revenue


If we conduct our financial analysis of the network news divisions in 2012 based on how the networks fared over all, there is a basis for coming up with revenue estimates. If revenue at ABC News followed the same trajectory as Disney’s overall broadcast arm, it would have declined 4% in fiscal year 2012 to about $624 million. If CBS News revenue mirrored that of the company’s entertainment division, growing at 3%, its revenues would have been about $443 million. And if NBC’s broadcast news division grew at roughly the same rate as the company’s entire broadcast arm, that would represent an increase of about 4.5%, to roughly $900 million.


Network news organizations often choose to keep their bureau information under wraps. CBS and NBC provided details for their bureaus in 2012, but ABC has not provided updated information since 2010.

19 Domestic Bureaus

As was the case with domestic bureaus, CBS and ABC provided updated information about foreign bureaus in 2012. The most recent information from ABC is from 2010. CBS closed bureaus in Moscow, Paris, Baghdad, Islamabad, Kabul, Tel Aviv, Amman, Hong Kong and Johannesburg since this list was last updated in 2008. NBC opened a bureau in Johannesburg.

20 Foreign Bureaus

News Content

A Pew Research Center analysis of the news stories covered by the three commercial broadcast networks in the first five months of 2012 reveals a different agenda for the morning and evening newscasts. The presidential election and the shooting death in Florida of Trayvon Martin got more attention in the morning news hours than other topics, including the economy, the war in Afghanistan and unrest in the Middle East, which all took up a larger percentage of the newshole during evening news broadcasts.

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

There were some differences in the news agenda of the three evening network newscasts in the first part of 2012.

For example, 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. When it came to government news, another “hard” news topic, NBC filled 8% of its newshole with news about government, compared to 5% at CBS and 4% at ABC. CBS also provided markedly more foreign coverage than the other network evening news programs, with 12% of its coverage looking at foreign news. Only 8% of NBC Nightly News’ coverage was of foreign stories and 6% at ABC World News.

Looking at lighter topics, ABC World News devoted 11% of its newshole to lifestyle coverage, 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 a percentage point, 0.3% at CBS.

22 Evening News Agendas DifferSEE FULL DATA SET

The amount of time devoted to news on nightly newscasts (namely, non-commercial, promo and teaser time) decreased by 1.6% in 2012 to 18.8 minutes out of the 30-minute broadcast. The time devoted to news had been on an upward trend since 2004 but has decreased in the past two years.

23 Time Devoted to News on Nightly NewscastsSEE FULL DATA SET

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

In 2012, the amount of foreign datelines for stories from the three networks decreased sharply, by 29%, compared with 2011. When looking at the networks individually, overseas datelines at ABC decreased by more than a third in 2012, after a 11% decline in 2011. CBS decreased 21% after growing 37% in 2011 and NBC decreased 35% after growing by 20% in 2011.

24 Foreign Datelines Decrease at All NetworksSEE FULL DATA SET

Digital Audience

There is no easy way to comprehensively measure the total audience that accesses network news digitally. With the growth of mobile platforms, this is becoming even more difficult to measure. And in 2012, ABC News and Yahoo agreed to a content partnership, which means the traffic count for ABC News includes Yahoo’s site as well. And NBC split from MSNBC in 2012, which probably affected traffic figures.

Three organizations measure online audience and they each do it a bit differently, which results in different numbers. Two of them, Nielsen and comScore are most alike. They base their measurement off a panel, like Nielsen rating panels, and members of the panel have software on their computers that records and extrapolates the websites they visit. They also both include mobile data. The third organization, Hitwise, on the other hand, buys data from internet service providers to see which websites are visited most, and this does not include mobile data. Nielsen and comScore are beginning to add similar ISP data to their count.

With these caveats, by two of the measures listed here, ABC News attracts more unique visitors than the CBS and NBC digital sites. According to Hitwise, ABC News also brought in a lot of monthly visits, but NBC edged it out. CBS was not included in the Hitwise count because it was not one of its top 25 sites.

25 Network Online Audiences
  1. By using the numbers Nielsen prefers, one month rather than annual averages, share for network news actually grew (looking at November). For five months of the year, share decreased, for four months it remained the same, and for three months, it increased, but all changes were slight. Share was stable at 29 for the first seven months of 2012.
  2. Kantar Media Reports U.S. Advertising Expenditures Increased 7.1% in the Third Quarter of 2012.” Kantar Media. Dec. 17, 2012.
  3. Veronis Suhler Stevenson. Communications Industry Forecast: 2012-2016.