Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where'd The Viewers Go?

Katie Couric was supposed to stop the bleeding at CBS News. Her network has lost on average 130,000 viewers since she took over for the disgraced Dan Rather.

Brian Williams at NBC News has lost 570,000 viewers over the past year. The executive in charge at NBC News was canned. Is Williams not far behind?

The better question is where exactly are these viewers disappearing to? Are they going to ABC News? Nope. Charlie Gibson's broadcast has gained 60,000, which means that there are 640,000 viewers that are no longer tuning in to the evening broadcasts on a nightly basis.

Are they going to cable television? Not exactly. They're simply not tuning in to the evening broadcasts the way they once did because viewing habits have changed tremendously since the evening broadcast format was established. People are more likely to go to the Internet and find the news than wait until the 7PM broadcast, which sometimes includes news items that are out of date because events have overtaken the reporting. One can read and get the wire reports as they come in, and be better informed than if you listened to Catie or Brian or Charlie.

The key for the three networks is to stem the bleeding, which means providing more current and better sourced stories. Changing the person in front of the teleprompter may not solve the problems since they're more systemic than anyone is willing to concede, though switching the talking head is the most visible way to make changes.

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