CNN accomplished something on Thursday that had never happened in its more than 28 year history. The 10pmET broadcast of Sen. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC was the top rated program on all of television, beating all broadcast networks as well as cable channels.
“We’re thrilled with the historic nature of our ratings victory last week,” CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein tells TVNewser. “We’re glad we were number one, we think we deserved to be and we’ll continue to try to earn those numbers moving forward.”
Having a cable channel earn the top spot on all of television is extremely rare but not unheard of — Fox News accomplished the feat three times during the RNC in 2004. It was, and still is, the only time it has happened for FNC.
And there have been strong ratings nights for CNN in its history. Larry King Live’s NAFTA debate in 1993 was the highest network telecast of all time, but still was eclipsed by prime time programming on the networks.
But in a head-to-head battle, Thursday’s victory was unprecedented for CNN (Wednesday CNN earned a disputed win over the broadcast networks).
“I like to think when I say ‘Best Political Team on Television,’ it’s really true,” Wolf Blitzer tells TVNewser. “It’s gratifying the American people responded.”
So what does Klein credit with the victory? And how does he think CNN separated from the cabler pack?
“I think it says something about media that are available at all times, whether online or cable,” Klein says. “We’ve got the number one news Web site in the world, and that site is available 24/7 on demand. So is our cable channel.”
But when it comes to besting FNC and MSNBC, Klein credits CNN’s spot in the cabler landscape. “There are a lot of people who want unadulterated information without any partisan spin,” he says. “The competition has become partisan extremists and we’ve held down the very important middle ground providing fair, unbiased information.”
But a recent Pew study found Fox News to have the most “balanced” audience, between Democrats and Republicans. Klein focuses instead on the question which found CNN to be the most “trusted” network (“That’s the bottom line for any news organization,” he says), as well as pointing out there is now a 3 to 2 ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the country as a whole.
Another key point made by many we talked to was the managerial style. “We have a management dedicated to putting the news first,” said Blitzer. “What I love about CNN is the news come first. I think viewers appreciate that.”
The praise comes from other networks as well. One MSNBC insider told TVNewser, “Jon Klein is absolutely brilliant,” for putting the “right people,” in positions to succeed.
“People respect each other both on camera and off camera, because we operate in a non-partisan environment,” said Klein. “Personal opinions don’t matter, personalities don’t clash. What you see on our air is mutual respect.”
Coverage of the RNC is still up in the air Hurricane Gustav dominates the news cycle today. Still, by Wednesday all indications point to the convention returning to a similar form, and whether CNN can continue to top the ratings while covering the other side will be a point of interest.
Klein isn’t focusing on the numbers. “We would define success by superlative coverage,” he said. “We don’t go into any event with a numerical goal in mind. We always go in aiming to offer the best coverage of anyone. That’s what we’re doing here and we think we’re going to succeed.”