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ABC and NBC vie for ratings

NEW YORK -- With Tom Brokaw's exit from NBC's "Nightly News" nearing, the ratings race between his program and ABC's "World News Tonight" is heating up.

Last week, they finished in a virtual dead heat, according to Nielsen Media Research. In the previous four weeks, NBC's show was more popular for two, and ABC's for two.

"Nightly News" won the important May "sweeps" in total viewers, the newscast's 21st sweeps win out of the last 22. But ABC was crowing about a victory among viewers aged 25 to 54, for the first time since 1996.

"Peter [Jennings] and I have made some changes to the broadcast, and it's gratifying to see the audience has noticed them," said Jon Banner, executive producer of "World News Tonight." He said the show has beefed up investigative reports and brought back its popular "Person of the Week" segment.

NBC believes the close ratings can be summed up in two words: Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey's popular talk show, which pushed hard for viewers during sweeps, is on ABC stations in many markets. With Oprah's help, "World News Tonight" begins each night with a 261,000 advantage in viewers over "Nightly News," NBC News spokeswoman Barbara Levin said.

During May, that advantage swelled to 573,000 viewers.

"In spite of this, we're gratified we were able to grow the `Nightly News' audience so significantly from its lead-in," Levin said.

One other plus for NBC: During the full season that began in September, NBC increased its viewership lead over ABC compared to last year, she said.

ABC believes NBC's lead-in numbers are deceptive. Winfrey is on ABC stations in only half the nation, and in no market does her show lead directly into "World News Tonight" (local news is usually on in between). Besides, the audiences for Winfrey and Jennings are significantly different statistically, said ABC News spokeswoman Cathie Levine.

"There's no relationship," she said. "They make this up because this is their thing to cling to."

Think this spinning match isn't competitive? Wait until Brokaw steps down and is replaced by Brian Williams in December.

Last week, the two broadcasts averaged 8.72 million viewers (6.1 rating, 13 share). The "CBS Evening News" had 6.8 million viewers (4.9, 11).

French channel comes to area

Aiming to appeal to Boston's large international community, TV5 Monde, a French-language television network based in Paris, will launch an American version in New England today on the Comcast cable system.

TV5 USA, which is primarily a news channel similar to the BBC, is already broadcast in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Seattle; and parts of New Jersey. It will air 22 daily 30-minute newscasts from bureaus in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada. It will also air short feature films, documentaries, children's programs, dramas, and some international sports coverage.

The 24-hour network is Comcast's third French-speaking channel. Comcast also offers CKSH, a daytime-only channel with a variety of French-language programs available only in northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The International Channel is on 24 hours a day but offers limited French-language programming.

As a premium digital channel, TV5 is available in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine for $9.95 per month on Channel 668.


Globe on NECN

Here's what's happening on "Around the Globe" today on NECN:

* 9:30 a.m.: "Talk of New England"

* 12:30 p.m.: "Globe at Home" -- book editor Jim Concannon and Marilyn Yalom, author of "Birth of the Chess Queen: A History."

* 4 p.m.: "Around the Globe"

* 6:30 p.m.: "New England Business Day"

* 8 p.m.: "NewsNight" Schedule is subject to change.

Talk of the dial

5 p.m. WPLM (1390) -- "PM Magazine" with Lindsy Parker. Guests: Stephen Pollan, author, "Fire Your Boss"; David Rourke, principal, the Relaxing Transition to Retirement Program; Terri Morrison, author, "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands."

Other radio highlights

Midnight WHRB-FM (95.3) -- "The Welsh Underground Orgy."
8 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- Mendelssohn's "Son and Stranger" Overture; Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in D, BWV 904; Copland's "Red Pony" Suite; Handel's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7; Bliss's Music for strings; Grieg's Piano Concerto.
Noon WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Live at Noon." Guest: Jim Palana.
7 p.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet"; Haydn's Symphony No. 29; Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1.

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