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May Ratings: CNN Turnaround

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May proved that, when it comes to hard news, CNN has the most to gain. Blessed by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the torrent of tornados and the continuing conflict in Libya, CNN's primetime audience grew by 34%. FoxNews and MSNBC both maintained larger audiences with their primetime talk shows, but FoxNews was up only 2% (the 17% decline in Glenn Beck's ratings certainly accounted for that) and MSNBC 11%. Occasional viewers still jump to CNN on major stories.

In primetime demographics, year to year, CNN was up 54% among viewers 18-49, while MSNBC was up 10% and Fox was down 7%. In the demographic where the three news nets make their most money, 25-54s, CNN was up 55%, MSNBC 19% and Fox was down 5%. I don't want to get too excited about this, because both Fox and MSNBC had more total viewers in that category than CNN did, but in the 18-49s, CNN edged MSNBC by 3,000 viewers -- I know that's a statistical dead heat, but I take some comfort from it. Among 18-34s (an age where hardly anyone watches television news), CNN gained an astounding 72%, Fox gained 21% and MSNBC 6%. Even with that, MSNBC still edged CNN in younger viewers. For the record, Headline News finished a dismal fourth in all categories.

Interestingly, CNN finished second in all categories on a total day basis. It was up 36% in total viewers, 50% in 18-49s, 66% in 18-34s and 47% in 25-54s. FoxNews was spottier, up 5% in total viewers, down 9% in 18-49s, up 2% in 18-34s and dead-even in 25-54s. (Despite their mixed results, Fox managed to be number one in all categories.) Like CNN, MSNBC was up in categories, but their gains were smaller than CNN's and CNN maintained the runner up spot. Headline News again behaved dismally.

The point of all this is that, when major news breaks, people who are not regular news viewers turn to CNN for what they think is important. Now, if CNN could only find a way to make more of their news seem important, they might provide real competition to Fox.

I think that one of CNN's problems has been its leadership, since my old comrade, Burt Reinhardt, retired in 1989. All of his successors came from outside the company, one from newspapers, and two from network backgrounds. None of them truly understood what CNN was meant to be. CNN's new news boss is Ken Jautz, who grew up in the CNN culture, may understand CNN's mission better, and over the next couple of years, will, I hope, turn the network around.