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December 30, 2008

NBC tops 2008 ratings -- for newscasts

Paul J. Gough reports...

NBC, mired in fourth place in primetime, heads into the final days of 2008 with ratings leads for its morning and evening newscasts.

And for the first time in a long while, CBS' news ratings might be looking up under embattled anchor Katie Couric.

"NBC Nightly News" will finish the year as the winner among the three major-network evening newscasts, showing year-over-year increases in viewership and the adults 25-54 demographic. In the morning, NBC's "Today" also is the leader by both measures. The 2008 ratings, released by Nielsen, run through December 23. Last week's holiday ratings are set to be released Tuesday.

Most newscasts enjoyed higher ratings this year because of interest in the presidential election and other big stories such as the Olympics and the incipient recession.

"NBC Nightly News" has averaged 8.3 million viewers on the year, up 3% compared with 2007. It also is up 6% in the demo. Second-place ABC has averaged 8.1 million viewers (down 3%) and a 2.1 in adults 25-54 (down 5%). "CBS Evening News" averaged 6.1 million viewers and a 1.5 in adults 25-54 (both down 5%).

Couric's newscast is ending the year on an upswing of sorts, logging four consecutive weeks of ratings gains. During the week ended December 21, it averaged 7.4 million viewers -- more than a half-million viewers closer to "NBC Nightly News" than during the year-earlier week.

Couric, who co-hosted "Today" for 15 years, defected to CBS amid a torrent of hype in September 2006 to become the first female solo anchor of a major U.S. network evening newscast. But the expected surge in viewers never materialized and the hype turned into sharp attacks on Couric's style. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that she might step aside as early as January 2009, but CBS has publicly supported Couric.

"Today," meanwhile, remains on top in the morning, but CBS' perennial laggard "The Early Show" is showing ratings strength with double-digit increases compared with a year earlier.

"Today" has averaged 6 million viewers (up 6%) and a 2.2 in adults 25-54 (flat). ABC's "Good Morning America" has averaged 4.9 million (up 1%) and a 1.7 in adults 25-54 (flat). "Early Show" has averaged 3.5 million (up 20%) and a 1.3 in adults 25-54 (up 30%).


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