Nightly news is a daily double

NBC, ABC have been neck-and-neck all season in viewers, demo

There's been a lot of ink spilled about Katie Couric and her third-place newscast, but the real battle is for first place.

ABC's "World News With Charles Gibson" and "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams" are, in a way, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of the evening newscast race. NBC is tops in viewership, but not by much; ABC is tops in adults 25-54, but not by much. It has been this way all season, and it doesn't look as if it's going to change anytime soon.

"For all intents and purposes, it's a tie ballgame," said Jonathan Banner, executive producer of the ABC newscast. "It's a very competitive race."

NBC averaged 8.9 million viewers compared with ABC's 8.7 million so far this season, according to Nielsen Media Research. In adults 25-54, ABC averaged 2.7 million viewers vs. NBC's 2.68 million. NBC has won or tied for first place in viewers 21 of 30 weeks; ABC has won or tied for first place in the demo by the same number.

"We've won the popular vote — but you're right, we're in the same neighborhood," said Alexandra Wallace, the NBC newscast's executive producer.

It has been a long time since the nightly news ratings have been so close for so long. Traditionally, one star — whether it be Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings or long ago Dan Rather — is on top and the others further behind. Now it's a two-man race, with CBS far behind.

"It's great that there's such tough competition," Banner said.

Even outside events that could change the evening newscast landscape have had only a tangential effect, if any. Williams' turn as host of "Saturday Night Live" in November gave the NBC newscast a bump, but no one thinks that was the sole reason. The network is down slightly year-over-year in adults 25-54, as are the other two newscasts, though ABC is down the least. (partialdiff)