Q1 2021 Evening News Ratings: World News Tonight Marks 16 Consecutive Quarters as Most-Watched Evening Newscast

By A.J. Katz 

ABC World News Tonight with David Muir averaged 9.6 million total viewers and 1.9 million adults 25-54 in the first quarter of 2021. That’s now 16 straight quarters as the most-watched evening newscast (since Q2 2017), and five straight quarters as the top-rated evening newscast among adults 25-54 (since Q1 2020).

Not only that, but WNT won both in total viewers and in the key A25-54 demo for the 52nd consecutive week (March 22), marking exactly one year at the top of the evening news heap.

Compared to the prior quarter (Q4 2020), which featured a presidential election, World News Tonight grew +2% in total viewers, and +4% in the key A25-54 demo. However, compared to the first quarter of 2020, ABC’s evening newscast shed -2% of its average total audience, and -6% of its adults 25-54 audience


The audience decline vs. Q1 of 2020 makes sense. That quarter featured a first presidential impeachment trial, the race for the 2020 Democratic party nomination for president, and wall-to-wall coverage of the Covid-19 global pandemic. ABC, NBC and CBS started airing multiple editions of their respective newscasts during the early weeks of the pandemic, boosting those March/Q1 2020 ratings even more.

Despite the mediocre year-over-year ratings trend, World News Tonight is delivering its largest average total viewership in 16 years.

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt averaged just under 8 million total viewers and nearly 1.6 million adults 25-54 on linear in Q1 2021. That’s +32% more than CBS in total viewers, and +36% more in the key demo. Compared to the prior quarter (Q4 2020), Nightly News was up less than +1% in total viewers, but down -2% among adults 25-54. Compared to the prior Q1, Nightly News shed -8% of its average total viewers and -20% of its A25-54 audience. NBC Nightly News is not trending in a great direction on the Nielsen ratings front.

However, unlike ABC’s and CBS’ evening newscasts, NBC’s flagship newscast now streams on YouTube and is able to garner some additional eyeballs that way (eyeballs which aren’t measured by Nielsen). On YouTube, Nightly’s full episodes reached an average of 1.2 million viewers, with said viewer watching for more than 12 minutes. That’s according to data from Adobe Analytics and Partner Portals, and the YouTube Analytics Portal.

Third-place CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell averaged 6 million viewers in Q1 2021. That’s up +5% from the prior quarter. The newscast also averaged 1.1 million adults 25-54, which is +7% from the prior quarter. That’s more quarter-to-quarter growth than the competition, and represents the smallest first quarter A25-54 gap with NBC since 1995. That said, the newscast shed -4% of its average total audience, and -7% of its adults 25-54 audience from Q1 2020.

Below, the Nielsen live-plus-same-day averages for the week of Q1, 2021:

• Total Viewers: 9,607,000 7,974,000 5,995,000
• A25-54: 1,902,000 1,564,000 1,133,000




Source: The Nielsen Company, NTI Total Viewers, Adults 25-54. Live + SD. Most Current – 1Q21: 12/28/20 – 3/28/21, 1Q20: 12/30/19 – 3/29/20 and 4Q20: 9/21 – 12/27/20.  Nielsen ratings for ABC, NBC and CBS include additional airings in select markets. Beginning 8/31/20, national ratings also include Out of Home (OOH) viewing. Averages based on regular telecasts.