NEW YORK -- There is good news for news in the Nielsen ratings. At a time when many prime-time entertainment series are losing audience to cable and other TV competitors, the four network news magazines have registered an increase in their ratings in the last year.
One of them, CBS' venerable "60 Minutes," is the season's top-rated series to date, with ratings 1.4 percent ahead of last year.
CBS' "48 Hours," meanwhile, is up 45 percent over a year ago. ABC's "20/20" is 9 percent higher and regularly wins its Friday night time period, and the network's younger news magazine, "PrimeTime Live," has improved its ratings by 10 percent this year.
Compare that to a drop in ratings of 2 percent for the average returning prime-time show during the last year and you've got Don Hewitt, creator and executive producer of "60 Minutes," suggesting, "Maybe this is the year of the news magazine."
Explanations for this phenomenon range from changing viewer tastes to a decline in the quality of entertainment programming.
David Poltrack, vice president of research at CBS, theorized that the news magazines, whose core audience is adults, may be benefiting from the fact that the large Baby Boom population is moving into its 40s.
"People in their 40s watch significantly more news and information programming than people in their 30s," he said.
"This major blip in the population is entering that stage of life, and that makes the TV environment more conducive to news and information programming."
Mr. Hewitt speculated that the growing popularity of the news magazines may reflect the public's increased appetite for "reality" programming.