NBC's 'Today' Risks Falling to Third Behind 'CBS This Morning'

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Things could get worse for NBC's  Today show before they get better.

A program of  Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC/Universal, Today lost its long-time ratings title to Disney (DIS)-owned ABC's  Good Morning America three years ago, and now risks falling into third place behind CBS This Morning, produced by the news division of CBS (CBS).   

CBS' entry in the morning race increased its ratings by 10% in the current TV season to an average of about 3.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen numbers. That cut second-place "Today's" ratings by 35% among all viewers and 38% by the 25-54 year old demographic that advertisers prize most for morning viewers.

CBS This Morning currently trails ABC by an average of more than 2 million daily viewers, and about 1.5 million behind NBC. But the two leaders have each lost viewers in the last year, while the CBS program, whose hosts include veteran news interviewer Charlie Rose, former CBS White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell and long-time journalist Gayle King, picked up viewers in each of the last two years. Two years ago, the show trailed "Today" by nearly 2 million viewers.

Today maintains a commanding, if slipping lead, in the lucrative morning news race. It leads in ad sales, selling $435 million worth of ads for its flagship 7 am to 9 am show, according to Kantar Media. But its ad sales fell by 14% in 2014, while ad sales for This Morning America increased by 3.3% to $362.9 million. CBS This Morning tallied $162.1 million in sales, a hike of nearly 10%.

Former NBC entertainment president Garth Ancier said,"As Today and especially GMA became more and more gimmicky and celebrity driven,  CBS This Morning rebranded itself with Charlie Rose and made a conscious swing toward hard news and related interviews."

The hosts regularly read headlines from newspapers around the world in a bid to help viewers start their day with news. When U.S. officials admitted that Islamic State fighters had captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the three hosts jointly interviewed presumed presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in separate interviews within the same half hour.

On a recent broadcast, O'Donnell interviewed YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on CBS This Morning while Today aired an interview with fashion show host Melissa Rivers. Disney's ABC show Good Morning America had a segment with Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, the real-life hero on whose life American Sniper was based.

A Today spokeswoman had no comment but in a recent press release the show noted that it is the top morning show among 18 to 49 year-old viewers, another demographic group advertisers want to reach. It also points out that in recent weeks the show has narrowed the gap with top-rated Good Morning America among both all viewers and those aged 25 to 54 years of age. 

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in CBS, Disney and Comcast.

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