The Resurgence of the Evening News in the COVID-19 ERA


The COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally changed the way we’re living our lives. We’ve learned new things, like the concept of “social distancing” and the songs to hum as we wash our hands for the appropriate amount of time. People are working to adapt to the new normal. But as our lives have been turned upside down during this significant and unprecedented public health crisis, one storied industry that was once a staple of daily life in American has experienced a major resurgence: the evening news on the broadcast networks.

In recent years, the evening news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC – noted for their straightforward approach to presenting the day’s news without partisan debate – have seen their audiences decline. As the New York Times recently characterized the landscape, 24-hour news networks and digital media have become the go-tos for news and debate, leaving the broadcast networks with a much smaller audience share largely comprised of Americans 65+. But with all of the hot takes and breaking news alerts available today, it’s the balance and the strict focus on providing information that has Americans of all ages flocking back to evening news programs.

It’s true that more people spending more time at home has led to a general increase in TV viewership, but the numbers for evening news programs tell more than just a “captive audience” story. According to the New York Times, 10 million people watched “The Voice” two weeks ago, one of the most popular programs on network TV today. At the same time, programs like ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the “NBC Nightly News” had an average of about 12 million viewers. Evening newscasts were among the most viewed programs for all network shows and are seeing audiences that rival numbers for programs like Monday Night Football. For the week, evening newscasts averaged 32.2 million viewers, an increase of 42 percent from this time last year. Even more striking was the 67 percent increase among adults ages 25 to 54, a highly sought-after demographic.

Given the current climate, the return of evening news programs to the top of the pyramid isn’t necessarily a surprise. As NYT reporter John Koblin explains, “For now, at least, a concise, crisply produced news program, devoid of the punditry and histrionics typical of many cable broadcasts, seems to match the national moment.”

In times of crisis, people want to know the information they’re receiving isn’t impacted by politics, or ratings, or the ability to sell ad space. We want to feel secure in the knowledge that we are being presented with the facts, allowing us to make the best decisions possible with the information we have.