‘World News Tonight’ Has Beaten ‘NBC Nightly News’ Every Night Since Lester Holt Moderated Debate

David Muir’s newscast wins the first two weeks of TV season for first time in 17 years

David Muir, Lester Holt
ABC News/NBC News

“NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” fell to ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” in total viewers last week following Monday night’s presidential debate, which resulted in criticism over Holt’s performance as the moderator between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“World News Tonight” averaged 8.27 million viewers for the week of Sept. 26-30, compared to 7.89 million for “Nightly News,” and 6.54 million for “CBS Evening News.” This is notable, as “Nightly News” recently finished the 2015-16 season ranked No. 1 in total viewers and all demos, marking its 20th consecutive across-the-board season win.

Trump supporters were in a rage over the NBC newsman’s job at the first presidential debate. Conservatives ripped Holt for failing to ask Clinton about her email server use, as well as not pressing her on her answers about Middle East policy and her alleged failure to contain ISIS.

But did Holt’s debate performance turn away viewers?

“World News Tonight” beat “Nightly News” among total viewers every day of the week, including the day of and the day after the debate. This is the first time “World News Tonight” has won the first two weeks of a television season in 17 years. On Friday, “WNT” beat “Nightly News” by 876,000 viewers for its largest single-day win in 10 months.

If NBC lost viewers because of Holt’s performance, they were likely of the older variety. The NBC News broadcast has ranked No. 1 in they key news demo of adults age 25-54 for 61 of the last 62 weeks and continued the streak, averaging 2 million viewers from Sept. 26-30, compared to 1.5 for ABC.

The truth is “World News Tonight” started closing the gap with “Nightly News” long before the debate, winning the week prior to the debate for its first weekly victory in the month of September since 2009. Two weeks into the season, “World News Tonight” is No. 1 in total viewers for the first time in nine years, and also leads “Nightly News” by its largest margin since the 1999-2000 season.

“World News Tonight” recently delivered ABC’s most-watched season since 2006-2007. Muir’s newscast improved one percent in total audience from 2014-2015, while “Nightly News” fell three percent in total viewers despite picking up the season-long victory.