12 days before the 2009 ratings year officially ended, CNN and MSNBC put out their end-of-year press releases, touting their strong ratings. In turn, outlets that cover media were forced to report on the story – like this piece by Bill Carter in the New York Times.
So what’s the truth? Here’s a breakdown of what each network is saying, and what it really means.
First of all, obviously, Fox News is way ahead of the pack, and #1 on cable news in all categories. But the battle for second is not as easily determined. CNN and MSNBC each finish second in some categories, and they’d like you to focus on those categories, of course.
For CNN, one strategy is to look to the past. And more specifically, 2007 and before. In their release, CNN described 2009 as their best in the last five years – not counting last year, which they pull out as an outlier because of their strong election ratings. Of course, every network is in this same situation – and FNC still did better year to year.
But it is true that CNN’s ratings are up from 2007 and before. In primetime and total day, and in the A25-54 demographic and total viewers, CNN had a better year in 2009 than in 2007 or the four years before it. Not nearly as much as Fox News, however, but still up.
Another strategy for CNN is to talk about daytime news hours, where it will beat MSNBC handily and was #2 across the board. In fact, MSNBC finished either 4th or 5th (in some cases behind CNBC) during the daytime hours. CNN also beat MSNBC on the weekends, as State of the Union and Amanpour, two new shows finished in 2nd place on cable news.
Also- talk about finances. This was seen in a note to staff from CNN President Jim Walton earlier this week:
First, some breaking news: Despite the worst economic climate in 75 years, CNN will finish 2009 with double-digit profit growth for the sixth consecutive year. Our collective commitment to cost management has helped us achieve our most profitable year ever. You did that. And it was hard. But you understood the importance to our future of weathering this storm and you did your part, and more, to see us through it…
Fine-tuning our structure to reflect and support what we are now and will become, as opposed to what we used to be, continued across the CNN portfolio. We added staff in areas where we were thin and where we will grow, and will end 2009 with more employees than we had at the start of the year. Your judgment, planning and vision did that, too.
MSNBC’s strategy meanwhile is to talk about prime time – when its biggest stars, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, continue to shine. And more specifically, outshine CNN. For the first time ever, MSNBC will finish the year ahead of CNN in the prime time demo, in both weekday and seven-day averages. As a whole, it was MSNBC’s best ratings ever – not counting last year.
Some other notes from MSNBC, about its star programs:
“Countdown with Keith Olbermann” finished the year with a tremendous lead over CNN’s “Campbell Brown,” for the third year in a row, beating CNN by 57 percent in A25-54 (360,000 vs. 230,000) and by 42 percent in total viewers (1,166,000 vs. 823,000).
“The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9 p.m. had the most growth of any cable news show in the hour among total viewers, up 15% from 2008 (1,023,000 vs. 888,000) and up 127% from 2007 (450,000). “The Rachel Maddow Show” finished the year just 3,000 A25-54 shy of “Larry King Live” in the hour (302,000 vs. 305,000).
There’s one other cable news network doing really well (no spin needed) – HLN is having its best year ever in 2009. Here’s their press release:
HLN set yet another ratings record in 2009, posting its best deliveries ever among total viewers and the 25-54 demo in both total day and primetime. Additionally, HLN had the most growth of any cable news network in primetime (both M-Su and M-F), up 15% among total viewers and up 12% in the 25-54 demo compared to a year ago on a weekday basis. This is the third year in a row that HLN has had its best year ever in the past five years in total day among total viewers and 25-54, and in primetime among 25-54.
2009 HLN program highlights include:
* Morning Express with Robin Meade from 6a-10a had its best performance in HLN history in both total viewers and the 25-54 demo.
* Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell at 7p increased the most of any evening cable news program (from 7p-12m) increasing 32% among total viewers and up 29% among 25-54 viewers.
* Nancy Grace at 8p posted its best year ever in both total viewers and the 25-54 demo since the show launched in 2005.
* The Joy Behar Show has increased 8% among total viewers launch-to-date (Oct.-present).
* Showbiz Tonight at 11p posted its best year ever in both total viewers and the 25-54 demo since 2005.
In 2009, more people turned to the platforms of CNN Worldwide than any other news network — with 67.1 million coming to CNN for non-opinion programming on average each month, 49.1 million people turning to HLN for news, views and opinion programming, 37.9 unique visitors on average each month on CNN Digital, and CNN Mobile had 11.8 million users. On television, FNC reached 57.5 million and MSNBC 50.3 million viewers.
Recap: best year ever for Fox News, 2nd best year ever for MSNBC, 2nd best year in last five years for CNN, best year ever for HLN. Let’s move on.