Special Reports Pay Dividends For 20/20 in Friday Night Ratings Race

By A.J. Katz 

January 2017 brought a victory for ABC’s 20/20 over rival Dateline NBC in the Friday night newsmagazine ratings race. Dateline, which had a strong 4th quarter of 2016, couldn’t keep up with 20/20’s hot start to 2017, a month when the ABC News series aired a variety of special reports, including Pres. Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the late Mary Tyler Moore. Below is a week-by-week comparison of the two programs in the 10 p.m. hour.

The averages for Dec. 30 2016:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 5.12M / NBC: 4.73M
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 1.33M  / NBC: 1.58M

The first Friday of the 2017 Nielsen calendar brought a victory for 20/20 in total viewers, but a loss in the A25-54 news demo. The special episode focused on the stunning passings of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. The 12/30 episode of Dateline was actually a re-titled repeat, meaning it isn’t calculated in the final January 2017 averages (which will be shown later).


The averages for Jan. 6 2017:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 6.26 M / NBC: *na
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 2.32M  / NBC: *na

Close to 6.3 million total viewers and 2.3 million from the news demo tuned into 20/20 on the first Friday of the 2017 calendar year. This was the Scientology episode (Scientology: A War without Guns). There was no episode of Dateline that night. It was pre-empted for the premiere of Emerald City.

The averages for Jan. 13 2017:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 5.87M / NBC: 3.47M
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 1.96M / NBC: 1.20M

20/20 delivered a commanding win over Dateline by 2.4 million total viewers, and 760,000 adults 25-54. This edition of 20/20 was a Diane Sawyer-hosted special where she and her team traveled across the country to interview middle class Americans and hear about their struggles.

The averages for Jan. 20, 2017:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 4.46M / NBC: 3.06M
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 1.51M / NBC: 1.27M

20/20 defeated Dateline once again across the board, winning head-to-head in the 10 p.m. hour by 1.4 million viewers, and by +9 percent in adults 25-54. ‘The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump’, featured interviews with his children Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump.

The averages for Jan. 27, 2017:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 5.52 M / NBC: 3.84M
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 1.51M  / NBC: 1.52M

This past week’s 20/20 remembered the life and legacy of Mary Tyler Moore. The episode beat Dateline head to head in the hour for the 3rd week in a row, leading by nearly 1.7 million viewers, and improving week to week in total viewers (+25 percent) and in the news demo (+8 percent). Dateline actually edged 20/20 in the news demo by 9,000 viewers.

The averages for January, 2017:

  • Total Viewers: ABC: 5.45 M / NBC: 3.46M
  • A25-54 Viewers: ABC: 1.73M  / NBC: 1.33M

In sum, 20/20 won the month of January 2017 by an average of almost 2 million total viewers and almost 400,000 from the news demo. These special episodes, some of which were rushed to air, managed to pay off for ABC. It will be interesting to see if 20/20 carry the momentum into February, or if Dateline can move back into No. 1 spot.