The “Back-and-Forth” of Cable News Ratings

By Chris Ariens 

We’re not sure what’s the more interesting aspect of Jacques Steinberg’s Saturday NYTimes piece: the ad buyer who says “there is some concern there” when talking about FNC’s competitors beginning to chip away at the ratings gap; or the GOP strategist/McCain donor who likes watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

What a world.

What Steinberg found, after the jump…

The story begins with FNC’s Q2 A25-54 demo win, but goes on to talk about how CNN and MSNBC are beginning to gain on the channel.

In the first five-and-a-half months of 2004, the last presidential election year, Fox’s prime-time audience among viewers aged 25 to 54 was more than double that of CNN’s — 530,000 to 248,000, according to estimates from Nielsen Media Research. This year, through mid-June, CNN erased the gap and drew nearly as many viewers in that demographic category as Fox — about 420,000 for CNN to 440,000 for Fox.

So, what’s changed in the last 4 years?

CNN and MSNBC have somehow managed to photocopy several pages from the playbook of Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News and its chairman, whose emphasis on sharp opinions, glitzy graphics and big personalities has been taken to heart by competitors like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Mr. Olbermann and his running mate on MSNBC, Chris Matthews.

And that Republican strategist…

Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996 [says] “I just think MSNBC and CNN have risen to the occasion in a far more creative way, with better guests, cooler maps and more interactive shows. I like Olbermann,” added Mr. Reed. “He may be a bleeding liberal, and I don’t agree with his harshness toward Republicans, but I find his show entertaining and informative.”

And finally, the ad buyer…

Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media, said he recently crunched the prime-time Nielsen data for the first half of the year on his own and came away with reservations about Fox’s performance. “I think that there is some concern there,” Mr. Adgate said. “While they’re still the top-rated network, the gap has closed.”


“The proof is going to be once the political season is over,” Mr. Adgate said. “Can CNN sustain the momentum they have?”