Two weeks ago much of the media was all atwitter (pun sorta intended) that the Today show had beaten GMA by a slim margin of 18,000 viewers in the advertiser coveted 25-54 demo (GMA still held a win in total viewers) for the first time in almost 6 months. You could tell they were readying for a Today show comeback story to start the New Year. Hey a win’s a win and it was definitely monumental for the Today Show. What surprised me most was that the pundits covering this just assumed the Today show mantra of “We’ve got a great show now” was working, and didn’t take a deeper look.
There’s no doubt that the Today Show is in a better place than they were 18 months ago, however it’s not as if Today’s show gains that week came at the expense of the other morning shows. In fact, all 3 network morning shows have been up as of late year to year and the week of 12/16 all 3 were up year to year in both total viewers and the demo. CBS This Morning, especially, is growing in ways a CBS morning show never has. That’s a show with a unique focus that viewers are clearly responding to. However, GMA is still posting gains in viewers and the demo year to year, every week. You can’t point to that week and say wow, GMA dropped a lot compared to last year, Today show is starting to pick up some of their viewers. In fact Today also had a demo win the last week of December ’12, so this is hardly unprecedented.
One media professional covering this even surmised that the biggest Today show daily win that week (which happened Wed 12/18) might have been due to GMA broadcasting from the Vatican. I’ll assume this particular pundit was joking, and looking for a flashy lead, because it doesn’t quite compute that sending Josh Elliot and the much beloved Robin Roberts to greet the most loved Pope in ages would incite viewers to tune out. Again, I’ll assume it was a joke. However, there clearly were significant factors that week why Today might have been up and I found it strange that the AM media beat that generally covers this, didn’t seek the connection.
The week of Dec 16th, NBC primetime was on fire. They had a huge NFL game on Sunday, followed by the 2 night finale of their biggest (and one of TVs biggest) shows, The Voice. ABCs primetime was filled with low rated holiday specials and reruns as their big shows had signed off in originals the week before. The Wed of Today’s big win immediately followed the conclusion of The Voice the night before, where NBC was over a 4.0 in the 18-49 demo and close to 15 million at 10:59. ABC, on the other hand, had 2 hours of scripted reruns followed by What Would You Do that didn’t even crack a 1.0. More likely than GMA visits the Pope, was the fact that there were lots of eyeballs on NBC that week (and Tue night especially) as people drifted off to sleep while there were few people tuned to ABC. In fact, at the end of the same week in question, GMA had a huge demo win on Friday, not coincidentally after NBCs primetime ratings came back down to earth Wed and Thu. I don’t begrudge the media making a big to-do about a Today show win, but just like the early days of GMAs #1 status when they were attributing it to DWTS tie-ins, etc, there are other forces at work here.
What bolsters this idea in my mind, is that in the just released AM ratings for last week, GMA had a mammoth win over Today, a disparity between the two they haven’t produced in almost 20 years. Last week GMA posted over a million lead in total viewers which included a huge demo win on Jan 2 of over 500,000 viewers – GMAs largest single day win over Today in almost 20 years. (I would have expected a big GMA win on Jan 1st since ABC owns New Year’s Eve, however Tue and Wed (Jan 1) were excluded in ratings that week by all 3 shows due to the holiday.) It also happened on a week that almost of the GMA regulars were on vacation, while TODAY had a much touted reunion with former Today hosts Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley, with current host Matt Lauer. Lots of promos on NBCs last big Sunday NFL game for that one. The huge win last week (and GMAs win the week before) suggest that for now, at least, the Today show win of the week of 12/16 likely had more to do with NBCs primetime fortunes than a sudden surge.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that TODAY isn’t in a better place than they were 18 months ago. They most definitely are. They are in a much stronger position to get a bigger post Olympic halo this Feb (after they likely win the 2 weeks they broadcast from the Olympics) than they did during 2012s Summer Olympics (when viewers literally flipped back to GMA the next day). The show and The Today team are definitely stronger and aren’t mired in all the negativity of that summer. But clearly, GMA is still #1 by a lot.
I get it. Stagnancy is boring. The Today show making a big comeback would be a huge media story and one that will generate lots of headlines. It could ultimately happen sooner than later, especially with NBCs Winter Olympics and their opportunity to showcase a morning show the network is now very proud of. I’m sure editors and reporters are salivating to write that story and many personally are likely looking to see a former favorite return to glory. But GMA is still number one and still growing and despite media’s efforts to assign their dominance to DWTS tie-ins and a more entertainment based slant on GMA, I think they’re number one for the exact same reason Today was number one was for 17 years: Viewers simply like this team, they like waking up to them. (Just like they loved Katie, Matt, Ann and Al. Just like they loved Meredith and Matt etc). They like that the GMA anchors seem to genuinely like each other. Yes, there are days when certain stunts and show tie ins give you even a bigger bump. But ultimately I think it just comes down to “I like these guys”. It’s as simple as that.