Brian Williams' Deep Trust Fall: What's Bottom Line For Advertisers -- And Ratings?

Trust for those who appear on TV -- personalities, performers, and news professionals -- can be a fickle thing. And so we get to NBC’s Brian Williams, who claimed during 2003 he was on a helicopter in Iraq downed by a rocket-propelled grenade, only to admit his story was wrong and/or exaggerated.

No surprise here: Williams’ “trustworthiness” has taken a big hit, according to the New York Times, by way of celebrity research company The Marketing Arm. 

Before Williams’ admission (and apology), his “trustworthiness” was in 23rd place. Now it’s at 835 -- about the same as actor Gene Hackman, NBA basketball player Russell Westbrook and A&E reality star Willie Robertson.

A perhaps more sobering measure comes from YouGov Brand Index for the overall NBC brand. The index says that starting in early February, NBC’s Buzz score went from 5 to its present negative 8 -- a drop of 13 points. NBC hasn’t been at that level since August 2013, when the NBC news division was hit, according to YouGov, for ignoring coverage of Russia’s stringent anti-gay laws before the Sochi Olympics was set to begin, among other incidents.



Does Williams’ one incident taint everything he has ever said or reported on? For many it does. And now for NBC’s reaction: Late Tuesday, NBC said Williams would be suspended without pay for six months.

What happened? Williams did apologize, saying his memory was a bit iffy, blaming “the fog of war.” Still, if your helicopter was hit -- and downed by the hit -- you might have better recollection than that.

Journalists make mistakes just like other people. CBS’ Dan Rather has been here -- and other news reporters/anchors. But purposely misleading your TV audience is another matter.

Here’s the bottom line: NBC still makes a lot of money from its “NBC Nightly News” -- some $200 million in advertising revenue in 2013, according to WPP’s Kantar Media. It’s the top early evening news show for viewers -- but not by much. ABC’s “World News Tonight” is next with viewers and with advertisers, getting $170.6 million in 2013. CBS’ “CBS Evening News” is at $149.9 million.

What’s the dollars and cents consequence?  We can’t tell just yet. While an NBC investigation goes ahead, TV viewers will be the deciding factor. But NBC didn’t want to wait around, limping along, with Williams on air to find out.

Consumers have to combat much more noise these days. Thanks to loosey-goosey news, information and opinion via the Internet -- as well as with traditional media -- viewers get more “fog” than from just someone’s memories of war.

1 comment about "Brian Williams' Deep Trust Fall: What's Bottom Line For Advertisers -- And Ratings?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, February 11, 2015 at 2:22 p.m.

    Watching the early evening network news must be some kind of habit, so I suspect viewers will leave their tuner on the same channel, out of habit. Given the local news lead-in, it's too big a hassle to find the remote under the cat.

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