Why CBS News Is Happy With Growth Despite a 3rd Place Finish

“To grow our audience, at a time when there is more and more choice, I think is a significant accomplishment,” CBS News exec Steve Capus tells TheWrap

Last Updated: September 27, 2016 @ 12:45 PM

“CBS Evening News” and “CBS This Morning” finished behind rival programs on ABC and NBC during the 2015-2016 season, but CBS executives are happy anyway.

“This news division, I think, has become the envy of the news profession,” CBS News executive editor and “Evening News” executive producer Steve Capus told TheWrap. “Given what we’re doing and the kind of things we’re doing and the success that we’re having doing it.”

Capus is referring to CBS finishing the season as the only network news division with audience growth on both morning and evening news broadcasts. A third place ratings finish doesn’t sting so bad when the audience continues to grow, and the presidential election has given CBS News a lot of material to showcase its hard-hitting style. “CBS This Morning” executive producer Ryan Kadro said the “appetite” for in-depth coverage “isn’t going to dissipate” come 2017.

“CBS This Morning” had the network’s best audience in the morning in at least 28 years (since the advent of people meters) and the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” had CBS’s highest ratings in the time period in 10 years.

Back in July, “CBS Evening News” launched a series on the countless challenges the new president will face on their first day in office, titled, “Day One.” Using interviews with former U.S. government officials on the major foreign policy issues, the show explored how the president would handle a worst-case scenario in Syria, trouble with Russian leadership and issues with Iraq.

The outside-the-box series is a popular example of how the network covers important issues with a different approach. Kadro explained that the surge in news interest that comes during an election year helps put a spotlight on the way CBS covers major stories.

“We try to give the political stories more time and more context, which I think is really important,” Kadro told TheWrap. “We really will give things more time. We go to great lengths to point out what a candidate may have said in the past or a change in their position. If it’s not true… we’ve done a number of fact checking segments.”

NBC News won most of the season’s ratings measurements, but “CBS Evening News” is the closest its been to NBC’s “Nightly News” since the 2000-2001 season. Capus feels good about his show’s place in the standings.

“I don’t want to overlook the fact that we’ve had six years of growth because that defies industry trends,” Capus said. “This is a period of super saturation in the information area and it’s very hard to attract any kind of audience of this massive scale, but to grow our audience, at a time when there is more and more choice, I think is a significant accomplishment.”

“CBS Evening News” finished behind both NBC’s “Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight,” giving “Nightly News” its 20th straight seasons across the board. But Capus said he doesn’t worry about what is happening at other networks.

“We are focused on our own broadcast,” Capus said. “We think that CBS News, overall, is in the right place right now with the commitment to original reporting, the commitment to an outstanding serious-minded morning program, an evening news that is, I think, first rate and has a ’60 Minutes’ correspondent at the helm.”

“CBS This Morning” offers a different approach to rivals “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show. While “CTM” lacks the overall viewers of its NBC and ABC competitors, Kadro thinks people are “just starting to discover” the hard-hitting news that his show offers.

“When you look at what ABC and the ‘Today’ show do, they’re doubling down on what they’ve always done. We just kind of said we’re not going to be in that business,” Kadro said. “We’re not going to do ‘five ways to save on party favors.'”

Kadro feels his audience made up of people who care about important events such as the upcoming presidential election, as opposed to concerts and cooking segments, and he is “committed to being the smartest show on television in the morning.”

Kadro continued, “The other shows are both down, so, people seem to be responding to the way that we’re doing it. We try to give the political stories more time and more context, which I think is really important.”

“CBS Evening News” and “CBS This Morning” aren’t the only CBS News shows to have recent success. “CBS Sunday Morning” finished as the No. 1 Sunday morning news program in both total viewers and the key demo, “Face the Nation” finished with its largest audience in 28 years, and “60 Minutes” remains the most-watched news programs in the industry.

CBS News’ momentum is continuing into the new season, as it once again showed growth, while NBC and ABC posted declines, for the week ending Sept. 23.

“There is a connective link between these broadcasts, we are on target with an outstanding brand,” Capus said.