NBC Is Trying to Solve the David Gregory Problem Instead of the Sunday Talk Show Problem

NBC hired a "psychological consultant" to study why David Gregory's Meet the Press is stumbling in the ratings. Instead of trying to figure out what Gregory is doing wrong, they should have tried to figure out what Univision is doing right.

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Maybe NBC hired a "psychological consultant" to study why David Gregory's Meet the Press is stumbling in the ratings — or maybe it was a brand consultant as the network claims. Either way, instead of trying to figure out what Gregory is doing wrong, they should have tried to figure out what Univision is doing right.

Gregory's travails after taking over for Tim Russert are by now legendary, with Meet the Press' audience dropping substantially and repeatedly. NBC, as The Washington Post's Paul Farhi writes on Monday, is consistently third in the Sunday morning ratings, prompting that visit from the "psychological consultant." "The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta," Farhi writes, "was 'to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.'" NBC quickly denied Farhi's report to the New York Observer, saying that it was "a brand consultant — not, as reported, a psychological one — to better understand how its anchor connects." This, the NBC spokesman said, "is certainly not unusual."

As the Farhi notes, viewership numbers haven't dropped substantially since the NBC-Russert era. It's the same general pool of people that the four big networks are fighting over, as Nielsen data shows. The problem is that Gregory is less popular in that pool, and/or that format changes to Meet the Press are less popular.

What's interesting is who's in that pool. In 2012, Pew Research looked at the demographics of various media properties, including the Sunday morning talk shows. The findings are at right. The only things that skewed older were Fox pundit shows and the everyday network news. Viewers likely look like the Face the Nation host that Farhi describes: "Bob Schieffer, the grandfatherly 77-year-old newsman." (As do guests.)

I took the weekly ratings for the year (via Mediabistro) to try and get a sense for how ratings worked on a week-by-week basis. The graph below shows each network's total viewership for each week of 2014. As you can see, it fluctuates heavily, but CBS has been dominant for several weeks.

That graph shows total viewers. There's a target demographic that advertisers look for, which is people between the ages of 25 and 54. When you look at the competition in that group, it's a little narrower among the top three. But what's really remarkable is how much of each audience is outside that target demographic. In other words, the number of viewers who aren't between the ages of 25 and 54 — which in this case means almost entirely people 55 and older. Here's how that percentage fluctuated each week.

Each week, the percentage of people watching ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox who are outside the 25 to 54 age group averages between 67 and 71 percent. That means about two-thirds of the audience is over the age of 55. Which isn't bad, it's just not the demographic ideal. (For comparison's sake, those numbers haven't varied too much. In August 2007, for example, the networks' Sunday shows were 66, 61, 72, and 55 percent outside of the demographic range, respectively.)

But look at that purple line at the bottom. That's Univision's Spanish-language show Al Punto, a talk show hosted by Jorge Ramos. On average, it's about 53 percent out of demographic. Meaning it's about half in the target demographic. It's far fewer viewers, to be sure, but it's a much better make-up.

There are obvious explanations for that, including that the median age of the Latino population in the United States is lower than that of the white population. But it also means that Univision is getting younger people to watch a Sunday morning talk show.

NBC's brand/psychological experts tried to figure out what makes the pool of older white viewers uninterested in David Gregory as opposed to Bob Schieffer. Maybe they should have sent some people to keep an eye on Jorge Ramos.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.