ABC News Beats NBC for First Time After Williams Suspension

NBC lost its lead in evening news viewership for the first time in more than five years, marking a setback for the network while Brian Williams remains off the air.

ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” drew 8 million viewers a night on average for the week of March 30, beating the “NBC Nightly News” by 84,000, according to preliminary Nielsen data from the networks. It marks the first week that “NBC Nightly News” has lost in total viewers since September 2009.

The results are a sign that ABC, part of Walt Disney Co., has capitalized on Williams’s suspension to catch up. The perennial No. 2, ABC’s “World News Tonight” has been closing in on Comcast Corp.’s NBC over the past year.

NBC suspended Williams in February without pay for six months after the newsman acknowledged he hadn’t been in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003 as he had claimed earlier. His last telecast was Friday, Feb. 6. Lester Holt replaced him as anchor.

In a statement, NBC News said “Nightly News” still leads ABC in total viewers for the TV season that started in September, drawing an average of 9.25 million viewers.

“Lester Holt has led NBC Nightly News to great success over the past two months, and we continue to be pleased with his strong performance during this time,” NBC News spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said in a statement.

Last month, NBCUniversal announced that Andrew Lack would return to be chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. Lack was NBC’s president and chief operating officer from 2001 to 2003 and ran NBC News for eight years before that. During his tenure at NBC, “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Meet the Press” and “The Today Show” took the top ratings spots in their time periods.

Lack has also served as chairman of Sony Music Entertainment and, until last year, was chairman of Bloomberg Media Group.

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