Why Isn’t the 2016 Election Giving the Evening Newscasts a Boost?

By Chris Ariens 

The stunning, surreal, headline-making, no-one-saw-it-coming 2016 campaign has been a boon to cable news, but the broadcast evening newscasts aren’t seeing the same kind of viewership lift–in fact, no lift at all.

In the just-completed Q1 2016, NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News have either held their viewers, or in some cases, lost them compared to Q1 2015.

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, which remains the most-watched evening newscast, was down -3 percent in viewers, while ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir and the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley were flat year-over-year. ABC and NBC were also down -2 percent in the A25-54 demo.


The first quarter of 2015 did have its share of big news (Paris terror attacks, the polar vortex) and there was of course the news about TV news (Brian Williams). Still, to not see any lift from campaign coverage–which is costing the networks millions to cover–is mystifying.

Numbers for Q1, 2016:

• Total Viewers: 9,232,000 9,067,000 7,738,000
• A25-54: 2,283,000 2,070,000 1,848,000

For the week of March 21, the CBS Evening News continued a trend of growing its audience: Pelly’s broadcast was up +5 percent in viewers and up +11 percent in the demo compared to the same week last year.

Nightly News was flat in viewers and up +3 percent in the demo while World News Tonight was down -5 percent in viewers and down -15 percent in the demo.

CBS is based on a 3-day average (Mon-Wed) due to the NCAA basketball tournament airing in western markets. NBC is based on a 4-day average, having removed Good Friday from the average (NBC retitled Good Friday in 2012 while ABC retitled in 2013). Only ABC is based on a 5-day week.

Numbers for the week of March 21, 2016:

• Total Viewers: 8,725,000 8,168,000 7,055,000
• A25-54: 2,096,000 1,820,000 1,641,000