TV audiences can&x2019;t get enough news coverage of Donald Trump. Reporting on pretty much anything else is ratings poison.
Cable networks have figured out how to successfully capitalize on Trump&x2019;s outrageous antics, but viewership for NBC, ABC and CBS newscasts have declined as much as 14 percent this year among coveted younger viewers. Broadcasters&x2019; strategy of offering a wider range of stories — from human interest to health and local crime — is falling flat with some viewers who have migrated to cable news for coverage of White House drama.
&x201C;In the current news environment, in which few headlines are being made that are unrelated to the Trump administration, the narrower agenda of the cable channels is a better fit,&x201D; said&xA0;Andrew Tyndall, author of a website that monitors broadcast nightly newscasts.
CBS, NBC and ABC declined to comment.
Since the start of the year, ABC&x2019;s &x201C;#World News Tonight&x201D; has fallen 7 percent among 25-to-54-year-old viewers — the demographic that advertisers care about most. NBC&x2019;s &x201C;Nightly News&x201D; is down 8 percent, while &x201C;CBS Evening News&x201D; declined 14 percent in the category.
To be fair, all of broadcast TV is hurting and the nightly news is actually holding up better than other offerings on CBS, NBC and ABC. Plus, their audiences still dwarf cable, with about 24 million viewers a night spread across the three networks. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC average about 5 million total viewers combined.
Broadcasters haven&x2019;t ignored Trump. NBC&x2019;s Lester Holt, for example, drove the news cycle in May when Trump told him that the Russia investigation was a factor in former FBI Director James Comey&x2019;s firing. &x201C;CBS Evening News,&x201D; third in the ratings, dedicated an entire episode last week to Trump&x2019;s comments on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the reaction to his remarks. Broadcast news executives say their programs are well positioned for the faster-paced news environment because they give viewers a quick way to catch up with the constant deluge of breaking news.
But recent drops for broadcasters adds to a more worrisome and longer-term trend. Audiences have been dwindling for about two decades now, said Heyward, as viewers age and the networks struggle to replace them.
Young viewers, who don&x2019;t watch as much TV, are more and more likely to turn to alternate offerings to get their daily news fix: Vice on HBO, Facebook and other social media sites, or podcasts like &x201C;The Daily,&x201D; which is produced by The New York Times.
Meanwhile, the country has become more polarized, and many viewers simply tune in to the cable channels that cater to their viewpoints and political beliefs.
How can broadcasters bring viewers back? Their best option may be sticking to their original reporting and hoping viewers grow tired of Trump, said Heyward, the former CBS News president.
&x201C;Cable has placed a bet that people want to hear about controversies around Trump all day long,&x201D;&xA0;he said. &x201C;The evening news is in a different game and they abandon that at their peril.&x201D;
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