Accuracy in Media

My how time flies! Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Scott Pelley’s first broadcast as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. He marked the occasion by telling the Associated Press’s David Bauder that he thought that the broadcast could topple NBC in the ratings.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence that we’re going to bring this broadcast to No. 1.”

That’s a tall order, since the broadcast has been mired in third place since the late 1990’s and lost a lot of ground to NBC and ABC during Katie Couric’s disastrous five-year run in the anchor chair.

But Pelley has made some progress since taking over last year, as his broadcast has seen an overall increase in viewers of 5% and an 11% jump in the all important A25-54 demographic. That may sound impressive, and audience gains are indeed important at a time of generally declining viewership, but Couric had achieved some pretty historically low ratings during the latter part of her tenure, making it easier for Pelley to show audience gains after he took over.

Overall, Pelley still has a very long way to with an average viewership of just a little over six million, compared to the nearly 8.5 million viewers at NBC and 7.5 million at ABC. In the demo Pelley trails NBC by 500,000 and ABC by about 200,000 on any given night, showing that he isn’t an immediate threat to their ratings dominance over CBS.

Pelley told Bauder that he wanted to set a new tone for the newscast, hoping to make the viewer feel connected to the most important news stories in the world every day. Toward that goal, he has focused the broadcast more on jobs, the economy and the European economic crisis, in comparison to NBC or ABC.

For now Pelley has steadied what was a sinking ship under Couric, who viewers struggled to embrace as someone in the Walter Cronkite mold, but who made out like a bandit financially. With Pelley there is no doubt about his ability to report on the news. But as for his prediction that he can take the show to the top of the ratings heap, he’s going to need a lot of patience and a few miracles to boot.

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