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Thursday 3 May 2012

CNN In Meltdown

[Update at end of post]

April’s viewing figures brought good and bad news for new recruit to the cable news circus Piers “Morgan” Moron: he was top rating host on CNN, but his audience was no better than the figures scored by his predecessor Larry King, he was a distant third behind Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) and MSNBC, and his network was shipping viewers fast. Very fast.

Rivals at 9pm ET: Moron with 567k viewers ...

Year-on-year, primetime audiences were down at all threemajor cable news players, but the fall in the critical 25-54 demographic was 9% at both Fox and MSNBC, and a whopping 22% at CNN. Moreover, April brought the lowest full day ratings for CNN since 2001. The all-new Percy Moron Show may have pulled in 567,000 viewers a day on average, but he’s well short of the competition.

... compared to Rachel Maddow with 985k viewers ...

Moron’s numbers are not much more than half the 985,000 a day average garnered by MSNBC’s top rating host Rachel Maddow, whose show airs at the same time each weekday, and around a quarter of the 2.075 million scored by Fox’ 9pm ET man Sean Hannity. The gulf the previous hour, when Fox’ top man Bill O’Reilly gets over 2.8 million, is even bigger.

... and Sean Hannity in the lead with 2.075 million

CNN management has pronounced itself “dissatisfied” with the situation. Well, whoopee-do. What do they expect? Viewers Stateside tune in to CNN when there’s a major news event – a “CNN event” – or something like a Presidential Election. But ratings needs more than major political upheavals, tsunamis or Katrinas, and in cable news it depends on its array of hosts.

What Fox proved early on – and MSNBC discovered when Keith Olbermann arrived for his long stint hosting Countdown – is that opinionated hosts, whatever their stripe, bring ratings. CNN has for too long sat on the political fence, and viewers who want news without opinion can get that from one of the three main networks, with some entertainment thrown in between bulletins.

Who do CNN have that can being in viewers? Apart from Moron and the generally excellent Anderson Cooper, not much. Hosts like Wolf Blitzer may be good at inducing drowsiness, but not at getting viewers to tune in. There is little point in being “dissatisfied”, and demanding improvement, if you’ve got nothing to do the improvement with. You’ll have to do better than that, CNN people.

[UPDATE 4 May 1830 hours: former CNN man David Bohrman has put his finger on the network's problem. "The world still knows to turn to CNN whenever a crisis erupts ... that is the brand ... but CNN seems uncomfortable with the totality of the brand. They are constantly trying to figure out who they are when there is no crisis".

And Brand Channel have noted that, although US Primetime advertising revenue is just 10% of CNN's total, "CNN in the US would love to make some progress against Fox and MSNBC. And they'd love to do so without having to rely on a flood, earthquake or explosion to do it for them". Thus the problem for the original Cable News Network]

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