As Hoda Kotb returns, ‘Today’ vs. ‘GMA’ battle intensifies

TV’s fall season is only just getting into gear, but at least one major network battle is growing louder.

Just days after “Good Morning America” usurped rival “Today’s” position as the dominant morning program among the viewers advertisers care about most,Today” has, for now, elbowed its ABC counterpart out of the ratings category – overall viewers – that it usually wins.

For the five days ended September 5, “Today” won an average of nearly 3.87 million total viewers, compared with a little more than 3.82 million for competitor “GMA.” In most weeks, the ABC show is watched by more people overall, while the NBC A.M. standby is watched by more people between the ages of 25 to 54 – the demographic most coveted by news advertisers. In recent weeks, however, those dynamics have been upset.

Blame the fluctuations on a host of potential factors. Did the recent resolution of a carriage blackout between Nexstar Media and AT&T bring a few thousand viewers back to the NBC program? Has the return of Hoda Kotb after several months of maternity leave re-energized the “Today” crowd? Did the fact that neither program’s broadcast last Monday counted as part of Nielsen totals owing to the Labor Day holiday skew the results?

26 PHOTOS
Jenna Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb together
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Jenna Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb together
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, January 24, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, January 17, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager and Maria Shriver on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Jenna Bush Hager, Hoda Kotb and Keri Glassman on Monday, January 21, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, January 17, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Harlem Globetrotters with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, January 10, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager and Neil Patrick Harris on Thursday, January 10, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 09: Jenna Bush, Hoda Kotb, and Al Roker are seen on January 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager and LeAnn Rimes on Friday, November 9, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, November 9, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, November 9, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Jenna Bush Hager, Hoda Kotb, Jennifer Hartstein and Jeff Gardere on Monday, October 29, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Tuesday, October 15, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, September 14, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, August 24, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, August 23, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, July 27, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb, Jenna Bush Hager and Hilaria Baldwin on Friday, July 27, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, June 1, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Jenna Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb on Thursday, April 26, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Thursday, January 31, 2019 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, January 5, 2018 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford. Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on Friday, October 6, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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No matter the culprit behind the two shows’ ups and downs, the margin between them is razor-thin. Just 35,000 viewers separated the programs in terms of overall audience. And just 50,000 viewers separated them in last week’s race for the advertiser demo: “Today” won an average of 1,199,000 viewers between 25 and 54, while “GMA” commanded an average of 1,149,000 viewers in the category. Season to date, “GMA” leads “Today” in overall audience by just 66,000 viewers.

Besides, “GMA” didn’t have that bad of a week: It won more overall viewers during its Wednesday, Thursday and Friday broadcasts as well as the demo audience on Wednesday. “Today” celebrated Kotb’s return last Tuesday.

And so continues the war to dominate one of TV’s most reliable – and lucrative – dayparts. Advertisers spent $1.13 billion on the three broadcast-network morning news programs, according to data from Pew Research – up 3% from $1.09 billion in 2017. Despite the bigger overall audience for “GMA,” however, “Today” tends to bring in more ad dollars annually. In 2017, for example, “GMA” won approximately $359.1 million in ad dollars for ABC  according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. That figure is significantly lower than what NBC gets from the first two hours of rival “Today,” which have in the past nabbed more than $500 million in a year.

The battle heats up even as the shows are losing viewers. For the five days ended September 7, 2018, “GMA” commanded an average of more than 4 million viewers overall, while “Today” secured an average of nearly 3.89 million. In the demo, “Today” had an average of nearly 1.38 million viewers between 25 and 54, while “GMA”  lured an average of nearly 1.2 million.

Both morning shows may have to wake up to the fact that their ongoing fight for A.M. viewers is getting more intense, not less.

26 PHOTOS
Michael Strahan on 'Good Morning America'
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Michael Strahan on 'Good Morning America'
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 06: Michael Strahan attends ABC's 'Good Morning America' at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 6, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Ginger Zee and Michael Strahan on 'Good Morning America,' on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 airing on the ABC Television Network. GMA18 (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) GINGER ZEE, MICHAEL STRAHAN
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 15: Good Morning America's Co-Host Michael Strahan attends Pitbull's performance on ABC's 'Good Morning America' at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on June 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: Michael Strahan is seen leaving 'Good Morning America' on June 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - The new Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' on Tuesday, April 29, 2018 airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images) BECCA KUFRIN, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Monday, March 12, 2018, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, TOM BRADY
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - 3/6/18 Chelsea Clinton, Luke Bryan (Judge, 'American Idol'), Ava Duvernay (Director of 'A Wrinkle in Time'), and Val Chmerkovskiy (Author, 'I'll Never Change My Name: An Immigrant's American Dream from Ukraine to the USA to Dancing with the Stars') are the guests on 'Good Morning America' (7-9 p.m., ET), Tuesday, March 6, 2018 airing on the ABC Television Network. GMA18 (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, LARA SPENCER, LUKE BRYAN, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Demi Lovato is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, January 24, 2018, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images) DEMI LOVATO, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Robin Roberts, and Michael Strahan on 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, January 17, 2018 on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11: MICHAEL STRAHAN on stage as Bleachers performs on ABC's 'Good Morning America' at Rumsey Playfield on August 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Rachel Lindsay got engaged to Bryan Abasolo on the finale of 'The Bachelorette.' The happy couple are guests on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, August 8, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) BRYAN ABASOLO, RACHEL LINDSAY, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Michael Strahan interviews Jon Bon Jovi before he addresses the 2017 graduating class of Fairleigh Dickinson University. The interview airs on 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, May 16 2017 on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Television personality Michael Strahan hosts a 'Good Morning America' taping at the ABC Times Square Studios on MAY 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - 3/30/17 Michael Strahan interviews Jake Gyllenhaal on 'Good Morning America,' Monday, March 27, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. GM17 (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) JAKE GYLLENHAAL, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Local animal shelter dogs visit 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, March 23, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images) GINGER ZEE, AMY ROBACH, SARA HAINES, ROBIN ROBEDRTS, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Michael Strahan interviews Scarlett Johansson on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, March 27, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, SCARLETT JOHANSSON
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Michael Strahan interviews Jake Gyllenhaal on 'Good Morning America,' Monday, March 27th, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images) JAKE GYLLENHAAL, MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Michael Pe� is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, March 23, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, MICHAEL PE�, AMY ROBACH, SARA HAINES
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Actors Joe Manganiello (L) and Demi Lovato,Michael Strahan tape an interview at 'Good Morning America' at the ABC Times Square Studios on March 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Coverage of 'Good Morning America,' Monday March 13, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Coverage of 'Good Morning America,' Monday March 13, 2017, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS
GOOD MORNING AMERICA Coverage of 'Good Morning America,' Wednesday, February 22, airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, AMY ROBACH
GOOD MORNING AMERICA Coverage of 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 21, airing on the ABC Television Network. {Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN
GOOD MORNING AMERICA Christina El Moussa is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 21, airing on the ABC Television Network. {Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, CHRISTINA EL MOUSSA
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Luke Evans is a guest on 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 14, 2017 on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, LUKE EVANS, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, LARA SPENCER
GOOD MORNING AMERICA Coverage of 'Good Morning America,' Tuesday, February 21, airing on the ABC Television Network. {Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MICHAEL STRAHAN, ROBIN ROBERTS, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, LARA SPENCER
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