ABC has placed a pair of attractive young anchors behind its "World News Tonight" desk and CBS is eager to snag Katie Couric to fill an empty and potentially revamped "Evening News" chair, but most TV-news executives admit their hopes of recapturing a larger, younger audience hinge less on who they put in front of the camera than what they put up on their Web sites.
"They need to take their content where consumers want to get it," said Stacey Sherpatin, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Hill Holiday, Boston. Aggregating viewers online will be key to pulling in more advertising revenue, which TNS Media Intelligence pegs as down 1% in the last year to $368 million.
Over the last five years, in fact, ad revenues for the nightly news programs have dropped as their audience has grown older and smaller. Evening-news viewers are largely defined by who's at home when they air-and that tends to be an older, less affluent group than the one that watches cable news networks and Sunday-morning news shows. Season to date, the early evening network news audience is essentially flat (+1%) with a 7.1 rating and 30 share among adults 25-54. According to a recent Magna Global report, it's the oldest-skewing network programming, with the median ages of all programs approaching or exceeding 60.
"The honest truth is the broadcast needed to be modernized-significantly modernized," said Paul Savin, senior VP-worldwide newsgathering at ABC News, of the changes the network has made to "World News Tonight."
ABC was the only network able to command an increase in the price of a 30-second spot on an evening-news program season-to-date vs. the same time period last year, up 4.5%, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus data. CBS's rate was essentially flat and NBC's dropped 9%. The price of an evening-news spot hovers around $40,000.
Under its new format, ABC "World News Tonight" will broadcast live to three time zones and produce an afternoon streaming online video preview. The changes take effect Jan. 2.
"The average dot-com user is 35 and if we can get them to look at our product there, that'll definitely age us down," Mr. Savin said. And grabbing younger viewers online will open up new categories of advertisers for the evening news shows. Think of co-anchors 43-year-old Elizabeth Vargas, a working minority mother, and 44-year-old Bob Woodruff, an attorney-turned-journalist, as anchors for the digital age.
At the moment, the TV news departments lag behind cable and print counterparts when it comes online traffic. Between October 2004 and October 2005, ABCNews.com and CBSNews.com only grew traffic 2%, a short number despite the presidential election the year before, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings. Meanwhile, NYT.com's traffic grew 15%, and USA todays 8%. over the same period. WashingtonPost.com was up 28%.
Brian Williams has continued to carry "NBC Nightly News," keeping it the top-rated newscast among adults 25-to-54, although that rating declined 4% over last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC plans to run the entire program online, the first network to give viewers who aren't available at 6:30 another chance to watch. Most recently, NBC also began streaming "Meet the Press" in its entirety.
CBS chief Les Moonves has been portrayed as pinning his hopes to revamp CBS News on Ms. Couric, who just racked up a 10-year ratings winning streak on NBC's "Today Show. " Mr. Moonves has suggested he'd be willing to craft a newly formatted evening news show that plays well on several media, such as broadband or video on demand. His theory? You need star power to stand out in an on-demand world.