Sorry ABC - you didn't win (yet)

david muir

It looked like a historic win for ABC News, but the big Nielsen screw-up has turned it into a loss.

So this story I wrote last week -- "David Muir ends Brian Williams' winning streak" -- was premature.

The trend suggests ABC's David Muir will likely be No. 1 soon - but he isn't there yet.

Here's the back story: Muir's "World News Tonight" has been gaining on Williams' "NBC Nightly News" for months. Muir is now reliably winning among 25- to 54-year-olds, the most important demographic for network news advertisers.

But Williams has remained ahead among total viewers -- which is why Nielsen's results for the week of September 29 were such big news.

The initial Nielsen ratings showed "World News Tonight" winning for the first time in more than five years.

A couple days later, Nielsen made a stunning announcement: a software glitch had been affecting broadcast ratings since March.

Nielsen said the glitch only affected "small amounts of viewing." But it deepened some peoples' mistrust of the ratings -- and in this specific battle between NBC and ABC, it actually changed the outcome.

"World News Tonight" was originally said to be ahead of "NBC Nightly News" by 166,000 total viewers for the week. The corrected ratings, published by Nielsen on Tuesday, showed ABC behind by 170,000 total viewers.

ABC still won the week among 25- to 54-year-olds. This split decision remained true for the week of October 6: ABC ahead in the key demo, NBC ahead among total viewers.

You can imagine the anger about this Nielsen glitch inside the networks.

None of it should not obscure the larger truth, which is that ABC News has ratings momentum right now across all of its day parts -- mornings, evenings and weekends.

NBC News is on the defense, and it knows that.

If I had to guess, I'd say "David Muir ends Brian Williams' winning streak" will become a true headline in a matter of time. Of course, that assumes that Nielsen's numbers are accurate now and will stay accurate.

In a statement on Tuesday, ABC News said, "This in no way changes the obvious momentum at World News. As we've always said -- this is a very long game."

NBC had this to say: "We are pleased that the corrected numbers confirm that NBC Nightly News is the No. 1 news broadcast in America, and has been for the last 265 weeks," NBC said.

Billions of dollars at stake in Nielsen ratings glitch


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