May Sweeps: World News Tonight Wins Total Viewers, Nightly News Takes News Demo

By A.J. Katz 

The evening newscast ratings race resulted in a split decision for the third consecutive sweeps period. ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir won May sweeps in total viewers, while NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt took top honors in the ad-friendly A25-54 demographic.

May 2017 represents the 3rd consecutive sweeps victory for World News Tonight in total viewers, an achievement the newscast hadn’t accomplished in 21 years when Peter Jennings was behind the desk. That said, World News Tonight was -5 percent in total viewers, and -9 percent in the news demo versus its May 2016 sweeps performance.

Nightly News ranked No. 1 in the A25-54 demo for the 8th consecutive sweeps period, and has now finished No. 1 in the demo for 34 out of the last 37 sweeps. Similar to World News, Nightly News posted year-over-year declines: -8 percent in the demo, and -5 percent in total viewers.

The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley finished in third and posted the most-significant year-over-year drop. The program was -9 percent in total viewers and -14 percent in the news demo.

All three of the evening newscasts posted audience declines relative to the previous year’s May sweeps period.

So, what’s the problem? Cable news seems to be thriving in this polarized era of Trump, with politically-driven opinion programming delivering especially large year-over-year audience gains. Evening newscasts traditionally pride themselves on delivering viewers a mix of politics and human interest stories. Americans seem to want politics 24/7 these days, and they aren’t necessarily getting that from the evening newscasts.

Is this just a temporary downward trend? That remains to be seen.

Numbers for the May 2017 Sweeps:

• Total Viewers: 7,551,000 7,526,000 6,086,000
• A25-54: 1,537,000 1,714,000 1,304,000