It appears that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams would have done well on the TV game show, What’s My Line?, popular in the 1950’s. The show aimed to stump blindfolded panelists trying to decipher who was the mystery guest by asking a series of pointed questions. In Williams’s case, the panelists need not be blindfolded.
According to a Pew Research poll, just 27% of the public could correctly identify Brian Williams, anchor of the top-rated NBC Nightly News. When respondents were shown a photo of Mr. Williams, seven-in-ten could not recognize him, or named someone other than Williams. In fact, 2% thought the photo was of Vice President Joe Biden. By contrast, in 1985, according to a Times Mirror/Gallup poll, almost half (47%) of Americans could identify news anchor Dan Rather. The public’s diminishing ability to recognize network news anchors reveals a shift in how Americans get their nightly news, from networks to alternative news outlets.
The poll further reflects that, although television remains the public’s top daily news source, the audience has declined in volume substantially since 1985. In November 1985, an average of 48 million Americans watched one of the network newscasts each evening. By 2013, that number had fallen to 24.5 million.
Furthermore, according to Pew Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, there is an age component to who is consuming network nightly news broadcasts. Older Americans, those 65 and up, are still far more likely to regularly watch network news than younger people, yet their regular viewership has dropped by almost half since 1993, from 75% to 40% in 2012. On the other hand, young people are among the least likely to regularly watch network news: 11% of those 18-29 in 2012, compared with 46% of this age group in 1993. About half (49%) of 18-29-year-olds say they never watch.