CNN Gets Head Start on 2010 Ratings, Touts Ratings Prowess With a Metric That Is (Mostly) Meaningless

By Alex Weprin 

Final Nielsen ratings for 2010 won’t be coming in until December 28 or so, but that isn’t stopping some folks from jumping the ratings gun. Admittedly, the final rankings are unlikely to change, although the exact numbers will likely shift slightly over the next couple of weeks.

TVNewser will have final year-end ratings from the cable news channels at a later date.

CNN was the first of the cable networks to spin its 2010 ratings, likely because it does not have the most positive story to tell. Indeed, all CNN could tout in its release was the network’s “reach,” noting that it averaged 96.4 million monthly viewers, compared to Fox News Channel’s measly 85.7 millionand MSNBC’s 83.3 million. Yes, CNN finished first in total “reach,” or “cume” as it is sometimes called.

When the final year-end ratings are actually released by Nielsen however, CNN is looking likely to place third in the most important demographic for TV news, adults 25-54. That number is based on the average audience for each particular program.

The “cume” numbers touted by CNN is a mostly meaningless data point when it comes to selling ads, which is the reason programs are rated by Nielsen in the first place. For more on why, you can check out this blog post from the Los Angeles Times or this report from’s Nellie Andreeva.

That having been said, the number is not completely without merit. Cume and total reach are taken into consideration when networks negotiate their carriage fees with cable and satellite companies. Of course, so are ratings and a number of other factors, but winning in “reach” is one bargaining chip that CNN has on its side. Considering that carriage fees are the heart of the cable television business, it is not something to be taken lightly.

CNN’s ratings release is below.

CNN Reaches 10 Million More Viewers Than Fox News and 13 Million More Than MSNBC in 2010

HLN’s Morning Express Has Best Year Ever;
Beats MSNBC’s Morning Joe for the Year 2010

In 2010, CNN reached more viewers than any other cable news network, averaging 96.4 million monthly viewers — 10 million more than Fox News Channel (85.7 million) and 13 million more than MSNBC (83.3 million).[Data through Nov.]

CNN continues to demonstrate the strength of its breaking news coverage, attracting cable news’ largest P25-54 audience during the first 24 hours of the Chilean Miner Rescue and registering the most growth of any cable news network during continuing coverage of the Haiti Earthquake and BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Throughout 2010, CNN topped MSNBC in daytime non-opinion programming (9a-5p) by 71% among total viewers (502k vs. 294k) and 64% among adults 25-54 (133k vs. 81k). Each hour from 9a-4p, MSNBC ranked either fourth or fifth among its cable news competitors in the key P25-54 demographic. [Data through Dec. 12.]

CNN Heroes, an All-Star Tribute to Everyday People Changing the World, reached a cumulative audience of nearly 16 million viewers over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Traffic to CNN Heroes content on achieved more than 10.3 million page views, and more than 1.2 million video streams. (Source: Omniture SiteCatalyst, 10/04/10 – 11/28/10 and 10/05/09 – 11/29/09)

HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade increased its audience in 2010 to its highest year on record and out-delivered MSNBC’s Morning Joe by 51% among 25-54 viewers (178k vs. 118k). This is the first time in HLN’s history that Morning Express has topped MSNBC’s Morning Joe for 12 consecutive months. Morning Express delivered HLN’s best year ever from 6a-10a among both total viewers (315k) and P25-54 (178k).

HLN’s The Joy Behar Show is the only cable news program at 9pm to grow its audience in 2010, up 7% in total viewers (P2+).

Among P25-54, HLN enjoyed a substantial advantage over MSNBC’s non-opinion weekday program block (9am-5pm), topping the network by 28% (104k vs. 81k). HLN ranked above MSNBC all hours from 9am to 4pm in the demographic.