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As Hoda Kotb Returns, ‘Today’ vs. ‘GMA’ Battle Intensifies

Variety logo Variety 9/10/2019 Brian Steinberg
Hoda Kotb talking on a cell phone © NBC

TV’s fall season is only just getting into gear, but at least one major network battle is growing louder.

Just days after “Good Morning America” usurped rival “Today’s” position as the dominant morning program among the viewers advertisers care about most,Today” has, for now, elbowed its ABC counterpart out of the ratings category – overall viewers – that it usually wins.

For the five days ended September 5, “Today” won an average of nearly 3.87 million total viewers, compared with a little more than 3.82 million for competitor “GMA.” In most weeks, the ABC show is watched by more people overall, while the NBC A.M. standby is watched by more people between the ages of 25 to 54 – the demographic most coveted by news advertisers. In recent weeks, however, those dynamics have been upset.

Blame the fluctuations on a host of potential factors. Did the recent resolution of a carriage blackout between Nexstar Media and AT&T bring a few thousand viewers back to the NBC program? Has the return of Hoda Kotb after several months of maternity leave re-energized the “Today” crowd? Did the fact that neither program’s broadcast last Monday counted as part of Nielsen totals owing to the Labor Day holiday skew the results?

No matter the culprit behind the two shows’ ups and downs, the margin between them is razor-thin. Just 35,000 viewers separated the programs in terms of overall audience. And just 50,000 viewers separated them in last week’s race for the advertiser demo: “Today” won an average of 1,199,000 viewers between 25 and 54, while “GMA” commanded an average of 1,149,000 viewers in the category. Season to date, “GMA” leads “Today” in overall audience by just 66,000 viewers.

Besides, “GMA” didn’t have that bad of a week: It won more overall viewers during its Wednesday, Thursday and Friday broadcasts as well as the demo audience on Wednesday. “Today” celebrated Kotb’s return last Tuesday.

And so continues the war to dominate one of TV’s most reliable – and lucrative – dayparts. Advertisers spent $1.13 billion on the three broadcast-network morning news programs, according to data from Pew Research – up 3% from $1.09 billion in 2017. Despite the bigger overall audience for “GMA,” however, “Today” tends to bring in more ad dollars annually. In 2017, for example, “GMA” won approximately $359.1 million in ad dollars for ABC  according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. That figure is significantly lower than what NBC gets from the first two hours of rival “Today,” which have in the past nabbed more than $500 million in a year.

The battle heats up even as the shows are losing viewers. For the five days ended September 7, 2018, “GMA” commanded an average of more than 4 million viewers overall, while “Today” secured an average of nearly 3.89 million. In the demo, “Today” had an average of nearly 1.38 million viewers between 25 and 54, while “GMA”  lured an average of nearly 1.2 million.

Both morning shows may have to wake up to the fact that their ongoing fight for A.M. viewers is getting more intense, not less.

Related video: Lara Spencer Apologizes to Male Dancers For Criticizing Prince George on 'GMA' (via THR.com)

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