With Brian Williams off the anchor desk for at least six months for padding his combat experience, it seems NBC Nightly News been bulking up its airings to maintain an edge. In a tight race with ABC News’ evening World News Tonight, the Comcast-owned NBC News has been picking up extra eyeballs among the insomniac crowd in recent weeks by re-airing Lester Holt’s 6:30 PM broadcast in the early AM hours in 10 markets across the country.
Last week saw NBC affiliates in Cleveland, St. Louis, Portland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, Charlotte, Buffalo and Knoxville showing the Holt-anchored broadcast in its entirety early in the morning. According to NBC News, the replays started in early February just before Williams’ Choppergate tall tale started to spin out of control. Beginning with one station that week, then up to three and now 10, NBC reportedly instructed Gannett to start replaying the Nightly News on the stations in those markets that it owned.
Holt took over the desk from Williams on February 9 after the embattled anchor stepped back for “several days” two days before that. On February 10, NBC suspended Williams until August as more questions arose about his version of events surrounding a 2003 firefight in Iraq.
According to Nielsen, such re-airings and counting those viewers toward ratings and viewership totals are within the Big 4’s rights — though NBC seems to be the only one doing it. Under Nielsen policy, the re-aired programming must be exactly the same as the original broadcast — including the ads. It also can’t be broadcast in markets that make up more than 30% of the country in total. So, no extra revenue but a few possible rating and viewership gains. The re-airings were never disclosed in any NBC announcements in the weeks since the practice started either when they have come out on top or slipped against World News Tonight With David Muir like last week among adults 25-54.
Those extra NBC broadcasts could make all the bragging-rights difference in a tight race that saw NBC Nightly News beat World News Tonight with an average of 8,131 million viewers over the week of March 9 compared to ABC’s 8.120 million. That’s an 11,000-viewers gap on a week that saw NBC down 16.5% from the week before. With 2.033 million watching, the latter broadcast took the adults 25-54 demo lead over the former for the first time in two weeks during the same frame. The Holt-anchored NBC broadcast drew 1.960 million viewers in the news demo.
CBS does not replay its evening news broadcasts, according to sources at the network. ABC has not authorized any re-airing of its news broadcast in any markets and don’t know of any of their affiliates doing so, said a source at the Disney-owned news unit. NBC News says that while it launched the program on February 2, they’d been planning it since last fall.
“Like any forward-looking media organization, we have been focused on ways to reach our audience when and how they want to be reached,” said a NBC News spokesperson today. “Over the last year we have launched NBC Nightly News on VOD and SiriusXM, and we have made the broadcast available at later airings in some markets. We believed there would be an appetite for NBC Nightly News in addition to its regular time slot, and that has proven to be true: the viewer response has been overwhelmingly positive.”