So! Here we have our answer to the question of whether hosting SNL would bring ratings magic to Brian Williams,
host anchor of "NBC Nghtly News": Yes! Almost a million more people tuned in to the broadcast last week than the week before, with almost half of those in the coveted 25-54 demo — making NBC the ratings winner last week. Charlie Gibson, eat his dust!
But wait a second. Yes Williams won the week, but he wasn't the only one with a bump — both Gibson and third-place Katie Couric at CBS reflected strong gains this week. Gibson picked up 610,000 viewers, leaving him just 50,000 total viewers behind Williams, and Couric gained 570, 000 viewers herself — giving the "CBS Evening News" its best numbers since March. Did Williams hosting SNL help all of them?
Who knows — viewers are a finicky bunch. Maybe last week's surge in ratings had more to do with a ferocious hunger for news about Pakistan. (Haaa, we kid!) It stands to reason, though, that Williams' bump was at least in some part due to the show, plus the avalanche of press before and after (NYT and a WaPo features the day of is pretty decent advertising!). We also know that the Williams-hosted SNL enjoyed its most robust ratings since last March (probably why they're rerunning it this weekend, though it's not like they've got much to choose from so soon into the season). Here for your own edification are the numbers (courtesy of TVNewser):
Ratings: Week of Nov. 5th
Total viewers: ABC: 9,180,000 / NBC: 9,230,000 / CBS: 6,790,000
25-54 demo: ABC: 2,840,000 / NBC: 2,900,000 / CBS: 2,070,000
Ratings: Week of Oct. 29th
Total viewers: ABC: 8,570,000 / NBC: 8,260,000 / CBS: 6,220,000
25-54 demo: ABC: 2,560,000 / NBC: 2,480,000 / CBS: 1,890,000
Increase from Oct. 29th to Nov. 5th (numbers):
Total viewers: ABC: 610,000 / NBC: 970,000 / CBS: 570,000
25-54 demo: ABC: 280,000 / NBC: 420,000 / CBS: 180,000
Increase from Oct. 29th to Nov. 5th (percentages):*
Total viewers: ABC: 7% / NBC: 12% / CBS: 9%
25-54 demo: ABC: 10% / NBC: 16% / CBS: 10%
As you can see, all the broadcasts got a bump this week, though Williams reflected the biggest gains in both raw numbers and percentage-wise (5-6%). It's clear that SNL was a factor in the week's gains, and almost certainly the win — if NBC's Oct. 29th totals had been multiplied by the same factor as ABC's numbers, then Gibson would have won both the week and the demo. Even so, in a week of across-the-board gains, to blithely attribute the results to SNL seems to be ignoring the rest of the data. Unless I am underestimating the power of BriWi in a funny hat.
One things I will note: Some pundits wondered aloud if Williams' SNL exposure would drive younger viewers to the nightly news (or, mores specifically, to the "Nightly News"). While it is unlikely that a single episode of SNL will change the viewing habits of millions of ADD-afflicted twenty-somethings (or, er, thirty-somethings), it is more likely that those viewers will turn to Williams when they do decide to watch the news — for election coverage or in moments of national crisis or in a few years when their habits change (er, assuming the nightly newscasts are still around at that point). Big news nights are won and lost on the swing voters (i.e. ABC picking up "Dancing With The Stars" marketshare for the 2006 election) and commenters on blog posts often indicate that they came to know Williams through his appearances on Conan or Letterman or The Daily Show.** SNL increases this audience, and will no doubt serve to solidify Williams as the go-to anchor for the young ironic set (or, at least, comedy nerds). That's where the SNL numbers will pay off in the future. Whether it will be enough to offset a "Dancing With The Stars" lead-in, though, is anyone's guess.
Update: We figured the biggest problem with this post woulda been the math, but an astute tipster gave us a great reason for why the numbers for nightly news have lately swelled: Daylight Savings Time! Now that it's darker one hour earlier, people need the news even more. Because night is scary, and a terrorist could be lurking anywhere. Actually it's also because people tend to stay in if it's nightish-looking outside. That of course does not explain our killer 5-6% theory, but BriWi in a funny hat takes care of that.
NBC Nightly News Anchor Helps Series to Best Overnight Metered-Market Numbers in Eight Months [B&C]
Brian Williams On SNL: We Show The Clips, You Decide [ETP]
In Bloggo Gravitas: BriWi On SNL, In His Own Words [ETP]
*I am pretty sure there is a standard way of doing this, and this is not it. But you get the gist. I hope. NB: This has been corrected from my original version where I listed the percentages as "1.07%" etc. Which is wrong, though I know you knew what I meant. But either way, I am clearly no longer allowed to mock Christopher Buckley.
**I had loaded the "BriWi Bond" sketch into YouTube after air, and every time you get a comment YouTube sends you an email. If you're a procrastinating writer, you click. NBC has since removed the clip - sorry, Jeff Zucker! - but many of the comments indicated a familiarity with Williams via his other gratuitous TV appearances. Also, one person called him a "pimp."