I don’t follow the television news game that much. I almost never watch television news, broadcast or cable. But I eyeball the numbers. I keep reading about how the ratings are so much better these days for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. First I read Tom Shales slobbering all over Ms. Couric in the Washington Post, and then today I even saw our friends at TV Newser write a piece about Couric that mentioned ratings and said, But recently the ratings have greatly improved.

I scratched my head and thought, “huh? Really? WTF!?” because my basic regular eyeballing of the broadcast news standings is that CBS is still mired in last place and that from that basic scanning things didn’t seem a whole lot different than they ever were.

I understand about Couric being a media darling. A lot of people loved her treatment of Sarah Palin, and hey, I too think she’s much cuter than Brian Williams. But it seems like Williams is the one who should be getting all the love.

Broadcast news ratings got some recent boost from the election and inaugural week, and in the first week post-inauguration has held some of it. But I wondered how that compared with the same period one year ago. So I looked it up . It’s only the smallest of slices to examine, but I think no matter how you examine it, there’s not really any case for saying Couric’s ratings have greatly improved.

What it seems to indicate is that things are up year over year for NBC and CBS. But in terms of the 25-54 demographic that news shows ads are sold based on, it’s up at NBC 5X what it is at CBS. CBS went up a tenth of a ratings point year over year while NBC was up half a ratings point (.5) among 25-54 year olds.

It’s true that CBS’ numbers have improved a lot more if you only compare it to say, a week this past October. But all broadcast news was experiencing the same trend, so by that metric recently everyone’s ratings have greatly improved! The week of January 26, 2009 was better than the week of say, October 13, 2008 for all three broadcasters. NBC improved most of all from that period as well.

CBS improved from the week in October to the week in January a little more than ABC did, but not enough to move the needle any versus last January. CBS is still last, across the board, and pretty much as far away from ABC as it was a year ago. And it’s even further away from NBC than it was a year ago.

We’ll have to monitor whether convincing the media that ratings have greatly improved actually winds up greatly improving the ratings, but I’d bet against it.

It looks pretty flat at ABC and CBS, while NBC is up more demonstrably. Perhaps we’ve completely ushered in for all things, whether it be stock market returns or television ratings the new era where “it didn’t go down much/any/or even went up the tiniest of slivers!” gets re-spun as “greatly improved.”

update: Bill notes that the trend for evening news is ALWAYS better when standard time is in effect than Daylight Saving Time. But this impacts all three networks similarly and reverting back to standard time helps them all. Recent gains compared to last summer or early fall can be mostly chalked up to this for all of three networks. While this chart ends in July 2008, it clearly shows the boost all the broadcast evening news casts get during the standard time months vs. the daylight savings time months.

Here’s the data table:

week/network Total viewers (Million) 25-54 Viewers 25-54 Rtg/Share
Week of Jan. 26, 2009
NBC 10.30 3.55 2.9/10
ABC 9.34 2.92 2.4/8
CBS 7.72 2.54 2.0/7
Week of Jan. 28, 2008
NBC 9.70 2.93 2.4/9
ABC 9.37 2.90 2.4/8
CBS 7.19 2.36 1.9/7
Difference ’08 to ’09
NBC 0.60 0.62 .5/1
ABC -0.03 0.02 0/0
CBS 0.53 0.18 .1/0
Week of October 13, 2008
NBC 7.83 2.48 2.0/8
ABC 7.16 2.52 2.0/8
CBS 5.89 1.79 1.4/6
Difference 10/13/08 – 1/26/09
NBC 2.47 1.07 .9/2
ABC 2.18 0.40 .4/0
CBS 1.83 0.75 .6/1
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Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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