A year ago, ABC’s “World News Tonight” was crushing NBC’s “Nightly News” by a gap of 1.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. As it stands today, Lester Holt’s evening news program is within about 900,000 total viewers of David Muir’s. That’s an improvement of about 47% from the chasm this time last year.
While there is still a sizable difference between the two shows — 900,000 viewers isn’t peanuts, that would be like the No. 1 primetime show on The CW — the ground made up by the NBC News program this year has been pretty impressive. And with the exception of a small hiccup from August to September, it’s also been very steady.
Since March, “Nightly News” has closed the gap with “World News Tonight” by about 37% in the key news demographic of adults 25-54, so Holt is not *only* drawing older viewers to his side.
The holiday season has been especially lucrative for NBC News. Last week, “NBC Nightly News,” which was the only newscast to grow week to week, marked its smallest viewer gap vs. ABC in 91 weeks. (That claim excludes a Thanksgiving Week 2021 win, which comes with a few asterisks due to the holiday. For starters, “Nightly” aired three episodes to “WNT’s” two, though that happens every year. Second: It’s, you know, a holiday week and the busiest travel time of the year, which certainly messes with regular viewership habits.)
That train keeps on rolling as the Polar Express approaches its Christmas-Day destination. This past Monday night, NBC’s “Nightly News” beat ABC’s “World News Tonight” across the board in TV ratings. That night, when Holt anchored his program from the tornado-ravaged Mayfield, Kentucky area, marked “Nightly’s” largest win over “World News” in about three years. That one too comes when an asterisk: “World News Tonight” was impacted on the west coast due to ABC’s simulcast of “Monday Night Football.”
When averaging the entirety of 2021 as a whole, however, “World News Tonight” still has its biggest lead ever (in 26 years) over “Nightly” in all key ratings demos. That’s because the ABC News program entered 2021 with giant leads.
In case you were wondering by this point in our story, “World News Tonight” and “Nightly News” both routinely destroy perpetual bronze-medalist “CBS Evening News.” To-date in calendar 2021, “Nightly” is averaging 7.029 million total viewers, “World News Tonight” is averaging 8.374 million and “CBS Evening News” is averaging 5.208 million.
See the gap between “NBC Nightly News” and “ABC World News Tonight” climb toward zero via the chart below.