‘CBS Evening News’ Ratings In 20-Year Low

Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News team did some striking work during a two-day trip to Afghanistan last week, only to see some record-setting low ratings in return.

NEW YORK (AP) — Katie Couric and the “CBS Evening News” team did some striking work during a two-day trip to Afghanistan last week, only to see some record-setting low ratings in return.

The Nielsen Co. ratings have to be discouraging to news organizations contemplating expensive assignments in a tough economy. The broadcast’s executive producer, Rick Kaplan, said he made “no apologies” for traveling to the war zone because of the importance of the story.

The CBS newscast averaged 4.89 million viewers last week, the lowest for evening newscasts in the nearly 20 years in which compatible Nielsen Co. records exist and most likely the lowest for at least a couple of decades before that into the early days of television. CBS also dipped below 5 million for one week in late July, during the normally slow summer months.

For the Thursday telecast that started the trip, the CBS newscast was seen by 4.69 million people, Nielsen said. Friday’s show dipped to 4.38 million.

The broadcasts featured war zone interviews by Couric of the U.S. Afghan commander, Gen. David Petraeus. Correspondent Terry McCarthy did a story about a U.S. Marine team in charge of locating and defusing bombs, and of the three men he featured one was killed and the others were seriously wounded in an explosion.

Couric’s final essay was about what might happen to women if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan. She asked: “Will the nations of the world allow the newfound rights of girls and women to become a casualty of a brokered peace?”


Between the United States’ growing world-weariness and the quiet summer months, CBS knew that going to Afghanistan wasn’t going to be an audience-grabber, Kaplan said.

“We think the story was worth it,” he said. “I make no apologies for it at all. We didn’t expect any huge ratings surplus. What was important to us was that we do it and we do it well.”

By those standards, the trip “was a complete and utter success,” he said.

Kaplan said he believed his ABC and NBC rivals would do the same story under similar circumstances. While the viewership figures are low in the context of network evening newscasts, they still exceed virtually all cable news programs.

In prime-time last week, the return of quarterback Brett Favre helped push a Minnesota Vikings exhibition football game to the top of the ratings.

For the week, CBS led with an average prime-time viewership of 6.1 million (3.9 rating, 7 share). NBC was second with a 5.7 million average (3.6, 7), ABC had 5 million (3.1, 6), Fox had 4.6 million (2.9, 5), ION Television had 1.2 million (0.8, 1) and the CW had 1.1 million (0.7, 1).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with a 3.6 million viewer average (1.8, 3). Telemundo had 810,000 viewers (0.4, 1), TeleFutura had 700,000 (0.3, 1), Azteca had 190,000 (0.1, 0) and Estrella had 180,000 (0.1, 0).

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.4 million viewers (5.0 rating, 11 share). ABC’s “World News” had 6.5 million (4.5, 10) and CBS had a 3.3 rating and 7 share.

A ratings point represents 1,149,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 114.9 million television homes. The share is the percentage of in-use TVs tuned to a given show.

The Top 20

Primetime broadcast viewership numbers compiled by the Nielsen Co. for Aug. 16-22. Listings include the week’s ranking and viewership.

1. NFL Pre-Season: Minnesota vs. San Francisco, NBC, 10.82 million.

2. “America’s Got Talent” (Wednesday), NBC, 10.3 million.

3. “America’s Got Talent” (Tuesday), NBC, 10.19 million.

4. “Wipeout” (Tuesday), ABC, 8.98 million.

5. “NCIS,” CBS, 8.79 million.

6. “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 8.48 million.

7. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 8.38 million.

8. “NFL Pre-Season Pre-Game Show,” NBC, 8.26 million.

9. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 8.03 million.

10. “Big Brother 12” (Sunday), CBS, 7.73 million.

11. “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS, 7.62 million.

12. “Big Brother 12” (Wednesday), CBS, 7.61 million.

13. “Big Brother 12” (Thursday), CBS, 7.55 million.

14. “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” ABC, 7.04 million.

15. “The Mentalist,” CBS, 6.87 million.

16. “Criminal Minds,” CBS, 6.52 million.

17. “Wipeout” (Thursday), ABC, 6.44 million.

18. “Rookie Blue,” ABC, 6.38 million.

19. “Flashpoint,” CBS, 6.36 million.

20. Auto Racing: NASCAR Series at Bristol, ABC, 5.84 million.

Comments (3)

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Patrick Burns says:

August 25, 2010 at 9:47 am

Maybe Kaplan & company are out of touch with mainstream America. I get the distinct vibe that the average American is completely wared out ( I know it is probably not a word or verb). They have seen enough coverage & have much more important things to worry about like a job, mortgage payment etc. So it is not viewers tuning out CBS they are tuning out something that just has been covered forever. The one story they will watch is when we leave. Period !!!

Eric Koepele says:

August 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Bravo to CBS News for covering this story. It is highly timely due to Gen. Petraeus’ recent appointment as commander of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and before that, the controversial release of internal documents about the war. If journalists covered only stories the public wanted to hear, our Democracy would suffer far more than it already has as a result of political gerrymandering and pay-to-play legislatures. News organizations that avoid tough stories like this, and focus primarily on what the public wants to hear, provide little more than entertainment. Bravo again, CBS.

    Kathryn Miller says:

    August 26, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Kathy, if this argument is extended a bit, then it would be rational to tie people down until they watched the well-intentioned (or not) journalism that the worthies delivered to us, and ignore the other ways to get information. As a recovering journalist, there are new models afoot, and the “gatekeeper of news” model is dead. The average american today has the ability to take in more simultaneous content than did tv news rooms less than 2 decades ago.

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