CBS Evening News has now made the full transition to Norah O’Donnell as anchor: After her debut in July, the newscast made a move to its permanent location earlier this week, distinguishing itself as the only network evening news broadcast from Washington.
On a new set at the CBS M Street bureau, executive producer Jay Shaylor, who joined in October from CNN, walked through some of its virtual features, including a giant floor screen. “The set is a spectacular,” Shaylor said, adding that it is designed to pull in data, graphics and video “using some brand new technology that other folks don’t have that will allow us to show off some really interesting storytelling.”
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But Evening News has a ways to go before catching up to competitors at NBC and ABC. In the most recent November sweeps period, the newscast was in third place, with an average audience of 5.78 million viewers, compared to 8.95 million for World News Tonight and 8.16 million for NBC Nightly News. Compared to a year ago, when Jeff Glor anchored the newscast, CBS Evening News was down by 8%, World News Tonight was up by 3% and NBC Nightly News was down 4%.
The newscast’s season to date average is 5.45 million viewers —- but CBS executives say they are encouraged that Evening News numbers are moving in the right direction. According to Nielsen, the newscast grew 33% in adults 25-54 and 15% since her launch.
Monday’s broadcast in the new studio was the most watched since O’Donnell’s debut, with 6.44 million total viewers and 1.23 million among adults 25-54, higher than the season-to-date average and 15% higher than her debut. Yet by another measure that rivals point out, CBS was down 3% that night versus a year earlier, while NBC and ABC each rose by 2% and 6%, respectively.
The hyper-competitive ratings are just one measurement for the evening broadcasts —- the other are the big “gets.”
O’Donnell has landed some recent high profile interviews for 60 Minutes and CBS This Morning, including Saudi Crown Prince Crown Prince President Joe Biden in his first major network sitdown interview since the start of the unfolding Ukraine scandal.
Deadline recently spoke to Shaylor about the move, the ratings outlook and how the newscast plans to draw in younger audiences at a time of big changes in viewing habits.
DEADLINE: With the move, will we start to see more stories with a Washington vantage point?
SHAYLOR: The advantage that it gives us is we can reach out to newsmakers, lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, the president directly, and can do interviews quickly. We’re not traveling an anchor from New York down to Washington. Norah can go across town and meet with folks or we can bring somebody here to the studio quickly. And so we see the ability to be able to do interviews with newsmakers, which is something that you haven’t traditionally seen an evening news broadcast. But I think we’re going to still cover the same stories that we’ve always covered. When Washington is the news, we will cover it. When the rest of the country is in the news, we will cover that.
DEADLINE: Will we be seeing more live interviews?
SHAYLOR: Sure. … I mean, Norah has the ability to pick up the phone and call people that she’s known for years on the Hill. She’s deeply sourced in Washington. And that gives us, I think, a real competitive advantage. So we’re playing to her strengths in a way by being here.
DEADLINE: What do you think of the timing – Washington is in the midst of impeachment.
SHAYLOR: Look, I mean Washington is always a big story. It just so happens that this impeachment is happening at this moment. But the presidential election is coming up in 2020, so that would have been a big story as well. This is a move for the long term, but Susan Zirinsky, our president, likes to say ‘Timing is everything.’ And I think we’ve proven that true.
DEADLINE: Now everything is in place after Norah O’Donnell became anchor. Everyone is going to be watching the ratings to see whether this works.
SHAYLOR: Look, my view is that we exist to serve the public good, which is to report the news in a way that’s accurate and urgent, and builds on the history of CBS as far as great storytelling, great investigative journalism. I am not terribly concerned about ratings right now. I think we’re building a really strong broadcast with a great anchor and great new resources here in Washington, and I think viewers will find us.
I have said to our team, and Norah has said, it’s an evolution, not a revolution … I think that we will generate viewers by great reporting. A perfect example would be David Martin, last week got the only interview with the Secretary of the Navy, as he was leaving the Pentagon, after being fired by the Secretary of Defense. You know that was something that only happened here on CBS Evening News and the rest of the evening, it was all over CNN and NBC/MSNBC and Fox and it was on all the morning shows the next morning. It was in every major newspaper.
DEADLINE: How do you draw younger viewers —- they didn’t grow up with the evening news part of their habit, and if you look at the numbers, there is a big drop off.
SHAYLOR: My experience is that young people actually crave context and depth and explanatory journalism. And I think that if you provide people that, they will watch. There’s a reason why 60 Minutes is the top rated program because CBS News has a history of taking complicated stories and explaining them in a way that people can understand giving people the depth and context that they need around the story. I think if we keep doing that, younger viewers will find us too. And then obviously we are expanding where we are seen. We’ve got a social media presence, we’ve got CBSN, so we’re rebroadcasting on CBSN at 10 p.m. In some parts of the country we are rebroadcasting overnight, which is also a time when young people are watching TV, surprisingly.
DEADLINE: How different do you think the broadcast will look a year from now? How will it be distinct from NBC and ABC?
SHAYLOR: I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the competition, I know that might surprise people. I’ve always been a big believer that we should play our own game, and deliver to our audience what we think are the most important stories.
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