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News Magazine

Network TV
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
News Magazines

The diminished but enduring franchise of the network news magazine held its own in 2009.

NBC, the leading news division over all, saw continued declines for its prime-time news magazine, Dateline, but at year’s end the woes of NBC’s entertainment programming offered the prospect of revitalization.

Viewership of the other flagship network news magazines — CBS’ 60 Minutes and ABC’s 20/20 — was flat in 2009.

Despite CBS’ decision to move the true-crime magazine 48 Hours Mystery to Saturday — the least popular night for television viewing — in 2008, the program actually drew more viewers in 2009.

And Nightline, ABC’s half-hour, late-night news program, posted the biggest gain in viewers from 2008 to 2009.

Audience

NBC’s Dateline started the year with only two scheduled hours each week, down from its height of 2004, when it was broadcast four nights. Both editions lost viewers in 2009, but the Friday edition had a bigger audience and saw a smaller decline from 2008.

The Friday program  lost 1.6% of its audience, falling from a weekly average of 6.2 million in 2008 to 6.1 million in 2009.

Dateline’s Sunday edition was replaced in the fall of 2009, to make way for prime-time broadcasts of National Football League games. The plan had been to move the show to Saturday, but NBC ultimately moved another program there instead.

During the nine months before it was replaced, the Sunday edition of Dateline lost 3.6% of its audience in 2009, falling from 5.5 million viewers in 2008 to 5.3 million in 2009.
The prospects for an expansion of the Dateline franchise in 2010 improved at the end of the year when the network scrapped the daily 10 p.m. Jay Leno experiment, according to NBC executives. NBC said it was looking for the franchise air additional nights following the 2010 Winter Olympics.1

Whatever happens, the fortunes of Dateline have fallen significantly from the program’s  height in 2004.

ABC

At ABC, in contrast, news magazines represented something of a bright spot amid audience losses in 2009 at the network’s two signature newscasts, Good Morning America and World News.

Viewership of 20/20 averaged 6.1 million weekly viewers in 2009, flat from 2008.
Nightline, airing five nights a week on ABC after the late local news, has smallest audience among the network news magazines. But in 2009, the program added 300,000 viewers, an increase of 9% over the weekly average for 2008, to a total of 3.7 million.

News Magazine Viewership
2007-2009
Design Your Own Chart

Source: Nielsen Media Research, used under license

CBS

CBS’ 60 Minutes remained on top among the network news magazines in 2009. Although viewership was unchanged from 2008, the stalwart was the most popular news magazine on television. In 2009, 60 Minutes drew an average of 11.9 million, basically flat from the previous year.

The broadcast audience for 60 Minutes, benefiting each fall from a massive lead-in of NFL fans, is nearly twice as large as either of its main competitors, 20/20 (6.1 million) and Dateline Friday (6.1 million).

After losing 12% of its audience in 2008, 48 Hours Mystery succeeded in winning some viewers back in 2009. The Saturday night program added 100,000 viewers in 2009, drawing a weekly average of 6 million, up from 5.9 million in 2008. But the program has its work cut out to make up for the 800,000 viewers it lost in 2008.

Personnel Changes

As part of broader changes in the news division of ABC, 20/20 saw the departure of a well-known anchor.

In September 2009, anchor John Stossel announced he was leaving the show to host a one-hour weekly program on Fox Business simply called Stossel. He had joined 20/20 in 1981 as a correspondent and was named co-anchor in 2003.2

Three months earlier, Stossel, a libertarian, complained publicly about ABC News’ decision to run a report on the death of pop star Michael Jackson instead of his own segment, which took a critical look at government-run health care systems.3

After the announcement,  Stossel wrote on his ABC blog that he was leaving the network to “dig into the meaning of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘limited government’ ” at the financial news cable channel.4

In December 2009, ABC announced that Good Morning America anchor Chris Cuomo would replace Stossel, joining Elizabeth Vargas as co-anchor.5


Footnotes

1. Claire Atkinson, “Ad Execs Wonder How NBC Will Fill Looming 10 P.M. Hole,” Broadcasting & Cable, January 12, 2010.

2. Alex Weprin, “John Stossel Fox Business Bound,” Broadcasting & Cable, September 10, 2009.

3. Brian Stelter, “John Stossel Leaving ABC for Fox Business Network,” New York Times, September 10, 2009.

4. Brian Stelter, “John Stossel Leaving ABC for Fox Business Network,” New York Times, September 10, 2009.

5. Marisa Guthrie, “Chris Cuomo to Co-Anchor ‘20/20,’ ” Broadcasting & Cable, December 10, 2009.