What is Going on with the Ratings at CBS Evening News?

As a rule of thumb, it’s never a good thing to have a picture of your news organization’s managing editor at the top of the Drudge Report.

But last week, that’s exactly where CBS found themselves.  To wit: On Tuesday, June 9, Mr. Drudge posted a photo of Katie Couric at the top of the Drudge Report along with a link to a TV Newser story about the evening news ratings for the week of June 1.

“[W]ith an average of 5.18M Total Viewers, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric had its lowest viewership yet,” wrote TV Newser’s Chris Ariens. “In fact, it’s the lowest viewership since at least the 1991/92 season, as far back as Nielsen records track.”

But wait—wasn’t the CBS Evening News enjoying a nice little upswing? That was the impression given just one week earlier when on Tuesday, June 2, CBS News sent out a press release touting itself as the “ONLY NETWORK NEWS DIVISION TO GROW AUDIENCES FOR EVERY PROGRAM.”

At the top of the press release, CBS gave a nod to Ms. Couric’s game-changing interview with Sarah Palin; touted a slight gain on ABC’s World News Tonight with Charles Gibson; and stated that The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric was the “only network news program to gain total viewers” during the previous season. 

So what happened to the supposed momentum?

Over the weekend, The Observer went back and took another look at the ratings data from the previous prime-time season. Sure enough, as stated in the press release, The CBS Evening News did increase viewers. But the gain was Lilliputian. Between Sept. 22, 2008, and May, 20 2009, The CBS Evening News went from 6.43 million viewers to 6.44 millions viewers. Overall viewership was essentially flat. And at the same time, in the key 25-54 demographic, The CBS Evening News actually lost viewers compared to the previous season, dropping from 2.02 million to 1.97 million.

In other words, the momentum in the ratings wasn’t really lost. It didn’t so much exist in the first place. Luckily,  Ms. Couric has subsequently received some serious advice on how she might turn around the numbers.

What is Going on with the Ratings at CBS Evening News?