Did ‘CBS This Morning’ Close Ratings Gap With ‘GMA,’ ‘Today’ Under Anthony Mason?

Not really, but it’s made some progress this season

CBS This Morning
Photo: Michele Crowe/CBS News

Former NFL wideout Nate Burleson is replacing Anthony Mason as “CBS This Morning” co-host, a move the morning show certainly hopes will boost ratings. Burleson, who will continue his work with NFL Network, is already a standout on CBS’ “The NFL Today.” He’ll join Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil at the CBS News morning program in September, while Mason transitions to a culture-reporting role.

“CBS This Morning” needs all the help it can get. The daily talk and news program ranks third out of the big three broadcast networks’ morning shows, and really isn’t even all that close in viewership to NBC’s “Today” show or ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

But “CBS This Morning” is trending closer to its competition this season than last, when the COVID-19 pandemic played more of a factor in TV production.

The disparity is still pretty vast. Overall leader “GMA” currently has a 20% viewer advantage over “CBS This Morning” and just a 3% lead over “Today.” In the key news demo of adults 25-54, “Today” has a 9% lead on “GMA” but a whopping 40% advantage over “CBS This Morning.” Those gaps are fairly consistent with how the shows stacked up before Mason and Dakoupil joined King.

For the full 52 weeks between September 2017 and September 2018 — before Mason and Dokoupil joined the broadcast — “GMA” had a 24% lead over “CBS This Morning” in total viewers and “Today” had a 39% lead in the demo. So the worst vs. first gap has narrowed a bit in total viewers but dipped slightly in the key demo. Interestingly enough, the gaps between the second-place shows and “CBS This Morning” have followed the exact same path.

Morning TV has been a two-horse race forever, with “GMA” generally skewing older and attracting the most total viewers, and “Today” maintaining its No. 1 slot among adults 25-54, which is the key demographic for news programming.

The season that Mason and Dokoupil joined the show in May 2019 (replacing John Dickerson and Norah O’Donnell), “CBS This Morning” averaged 3.030 million total viewers (down 9% from the prior season), according to Nielsen, and 785,000 among those 25-54 (down 10%). Isolating just very first months of Mason’s and Dokoupil’s tenures (May 20, 2019 – Sept. 22, 2019), which started just before the dog (and low-rated) days of summer, “CBSTM” averaged 2.782 million total viewers. Of that tally, 701,000 viewers were in the key news demo.

To offer some competitive perspective, for those same 17 weeks, “GMA” averaged nearly 1 million more overall viewers (3.720 million), of which 1.049 million fell into the demo. “Today” brought in 3.607 million viewers per day, with 1.106 million adults 25-54.

The following season, Mason’s (and again, Dokoupil’s) first full year as a co-host, “CBS This Morning” increased its overall viewership by 100,000 people per day. It still lost 8,000 daily viewers in the demo, however. And that year, “Today” and “GMA” both experienced gains across the board. While they didn’t lose demo viewers, they also didn’t gain as many overall (read: older) viewers as the CBS offering.

This season, through August 8, 2021, “CBS This Morning” has dipped 6% overall and dropped 16% in the key demo. That’s not *good,* especially among adults 25-54, but those are actually the lightest declines among the broadcast morning-show competition. To date, “Today” is down 11% overall and 17% in the demo, while “GMA” has declined 10% overall and 18% in the demo.

And “Today” just got a pretty nice hand these past few weeks from NBC’s Tokyo Olympics.

We’re not blaming Mason for “CBS This Morning’s” longstanding ratings struggles — we’re barely even blaming the show itself. Part of the problem with “CBS This Morning’s” ratings is actually the strength of (or at least the dedication to) its journalism. “Today” and “GMA” tend to focus on lighter fare, which seems to suit your average morning viewers just fine.

“CBS This Morning” has earned a Peabody Award, a Polk Award, five News & Documentary Emmys, three Daytime Emmys and the 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast. The broadcast was also honored with an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award as part of CBS News division-wide coverage of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

For this story, we also consulted the Q Scores company, which polls Americans and tracks the likability of celebrities and media personalities, for Mason’s and Burleson’s respective scores. As of their February 2021 study, Mason ranked about average with a Q Score of 14. Burleson was slightly below average — and below Mason — with a 12. A summer update is expected soon, but the data was not available in time for this story.

Those Q Scores basically mean that of the Americans polled, 14% and 12% acknowledged Mason and Burleson, respectively, as among their favorite media personalities.

Burleson played 11 NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. In 2004, his second year in the league, Burleson topped 1,000 receiving yards — the only time in his career. Burleson hauled in nine touchdowns, a career-high he matched in 2007 with Seattle.

On Wednesday, CBS News and Stations President Neeraj Khemlani said Burleson will be the “perfect fit” for “CBS This Morning,” adding: “His wide range of experience and interests — from news to sports, from music to poetry, and from fashion to cryptocurrency — provides a unique perspective that will deepen the show’s connection with our viewers. He excites audiences in every arena, and we’re fortunate to have Nate joining Gayle and Tony at the table in September.”


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