'CBS This Morning' Bucks Industry Trend by Adding Viewers

David Rhodes - P 2013
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David Rhodes - P 2013

CBS News president David Rhodes talks ratings and why Donald Trump has not been on 'CBS This Morning.'

CBS This Morning recently celebrated 1,000 episodes, a relatively young milestone for a news division where the other daily franchise, the CBS Evening News, is nearly 70 years old. But the current iteration of the morning show is likely to be the one that finally achieves staying power.

The broadcast — co-anchored by Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell — has notched 38 consecutive months of growth, according to CBS News. CBS This Morning is flat so far this season among viewers 25-54, the demographic critical to monetizing TV news. But the program is up 11 percent among women 25-54 (while ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today are down 22 percent and 5 percent, respectively). CBS This Morning also is up among women 18-49 (17 percent), while GMA is down 25 percent and Today is off by 6 percent. 

GMA is still the most-watched morning show for the last four seasons. But Today has extended its demo winning streak to 15 weeks this season, once again making it the top-rated morning show in the demo.

CBS This Morning remains in third place in the morning-show wars, but it's the only broadcast that isn't down, and it's up 8 percent among total viewers, while both GMA and Today have slipped.  

CBS News president David Rhodes concedes that he'd like to see the broadcast up even more — and rise in the critical 25-54 demo — but the fact that the show is "bucking the industry trend" is encouraging and validates the decision to position the show as a harder-edged alternative in the morning.

"We have been in a difficult competitive position in the morning for a very long time," says Rhodes. "And this strategy that we’ve had is only three years old. Usually it's the case in this business that if No. 1 and No. 2 are down, in some cases by a lot, No. 3 would be down, too. We want to be up [in the demo]. We’d like to be up even more, and be challenging No. 2. I think that fact that we’re up and GMA is down double-digit percentage points is pretty good."

The CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley also has seen growth; this season, the broadcast is up 6 percent among total viewers, averaging 7.3 million. NBC's Nightly News With Lester Holt remains the top-rated evening newscast, followed by ABC's World News Tonight With David Muir.

The political season and particularly the volatile GOP primary field have obviously been top stories for TV news divisions, with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump having become a favored interview, mostly via phone or on a remote. (Trump has bragged that he's spent "literally no money" on advertising.)

"Trump is a huge story that isn’t going away," notes Rhodes. 

Trump has appeared on 60 Minutes, where in September he was interviewed by Pelley. And he was on Face the Nation with moderator John Dickerson on Dec. 6. But the only morning show he has not done is CBS This Morning, as the show's executives have so far declined to waive a policy to have guests appear in person. 

"I think it would be interesting to have Donald Trump at the table," says Rhodes. "Why hasn’t he been on CBS This Morning? You’d have to ask him that."