The ratings on CNN primetime were so bad last week that Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta have been exiled to Haiti. CNN finished third in total viewers (only 9,000 more than the last-place Headline News) and fourth in all the demographic categories. Fox News had more 25-54 viewers in primetime, than CNN, MSNBC and Headline News combined. The news networks base their advertising revenue on the 25-54 demographic, and those low ratings hit CNN and Time Warner right in the pocketbook.
CNN had done pretty well over the last two weeks with Cooper and Gupta doing excellent reports in the wake of the Haitian earthquake. But as often happens, the wall-to-wall Haitian coverage turned off viewers who interested in other subjects, and they have yet to return to "the world's most trusted network."
The same sort of rating loss happened after the 1995 OJ Simpson trial. CNN had been averaging a point seven rating from 1983 through 1994. After the trial, CNN ratings fell to point fives and point fours. One-shot stories attract many non-news viewers. When the stories are over, the occasional viewers go away, and regular viewers who have learned to live without their favorite network are often slow to return. Despite all this history, CNN's leaders have decided that the best way to solve their rating problems is to send Cooper and Gupta back to Haiti, even though most of the action there has ended.
The rest of the news for CNN is equally dismal. MSNBC has regained its primetime edge, beating CNN by more than 100,000 viewers and finishing second to Fox in all the demographic groups. But MSNBC is a distant second. Fox News seems to have attained juggernaut status, and is rolling over the opposition in a way that alarms me, and, I think, casts great doubts about the nature of the news audience.
My only consolation is that cnn.com continues to dominate the Internet audience, which is far younger than the median age of any of the cable news networks. The Internet measuring service, Compete, measures cnn.com's monthly unique viewers at just under 30 million. I don't have the monthly "reach" numbers of the cable news networks. "Reach" measures the number of unique viewers who spend at least six minutes watching the network. (If any reader has current numbers, please feel free to send them to me.) But as I remember it, when I last saw "reach" numbers, CNN reached just more than 30 million viewers, and Fox was just under that number.
In any case, I hope the cnn.com viewers have replaced the network's TV viewers, and I wish that some broadcast/Internet research service would provide an analysis as to who is watching which, when it comes to news.