We will look at the primetime news/information programs that comprise primetime in the Cable universe – the “big three” – Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. We’re going to look at them primarily from the most accepted demographic – Adults 25-54. Now since we don’t have access to every demographic that comprises a 2+ Total Audience, we are limited in what we can tell you.
First some background as to how the audience was examined – and these are accepted in the industry.
We look at TIME PERIOD audience for each day, week and number of days that comprise a calendar month since the programs you are most concerned about air five days a week.
It is irrelevant to the analysis if the anchor was present in the time period as ratings are developed for advertising analysis, and programs are not bought based on who is sitting in the anchor chair that night. They are buying the program, not program and anchor.
What is relevant, and is discarded is “event” programming such as debates. In the case of any channel airing an “event,” the audience numbers are discarded and the average audience for that program for the week or month, is used in place of the “event.” Why can’t “event” audience be used? It isn’t indicative of the average program’s performance.
Can my ratings analysis differ from what you see on the internet? Yes. The reason is I am not looking to send out a press release that points out program advantages. Will the numbers differ from site to site? Yes. Some sites use Nielsen audience figures for LIVE only and some use LIVE+Same Day DVR estimates. The absolute final audience figures for a program can be delayed as much as three weeks, so we use what we call Nielsen Fast Track Nationals – the overnight ratings of LIVE + SAME DAY DVR based on the 56 metered US markets that comprise the Fast National numbers. These are the same audience figures the internet sites use. However, for our analysis, LIVE+SAME DAY DVR is the most current, accurate performance in the absence of final, certified audience performance.
You may have heard that the advertising industry switched this year from buying on LIVE ratings only, to a term that we call C3. What that means is the channels and media buyers have agreed that LIVE+3 day retention of DVR program viewership will count as the final program audience performance. You can see now why it can take up to three weeks for Nielsen to compile accurate final audience delivery.
You have also witnessed the result of the ad community resisting cable channels using commercial breaks (called “pods” in the industry) which are so long that there can be massive viewer tune-out. Rating commercials is now a serious business, separate from program ratings, so CNN has started telling viewers their commercial breaks will be shorter, “so don’t go away.” To quote a recent trade ad: “One of the best things that has emerged from C3 thus far is that it has forced the cable nets to be more accountable for the length of their commercial pods.” Now do you see why CNN is using graphics alerting viewers their breaks will be shorter – it’s for the ad community. They are not reducing the amount of advertising spots over the course of an hour, they are just breaking more often.
So, let’s jump in and see some highlights on how CNN and AC360 fared in audience performance!
Fox News/CNN/MSNBC Primetime Analysis
Comparisons over Month of September 3-29, 2007
Like it or not, television tends to have tremendous amounts of audience 50 years and older. If a channel has a large amount of older viewers, they can always boast of being #1. It’s nice to say you are #1, but if the ad community really cares about the key demographic delivery of Adults 25-54, being #1 in the demographic is most important. While all News typically skews old, some programs have formats that can be more appealing to the true audience the advertiser wants. Is it nice to get all this extra audience outside of Adults 25-54? Sure, but try to get anyone to pay for it other than advertiser who buy total audience (few).
FOX News’s primetime (8-11PM) was far and away the #1 cable news channel for the month of September because of its top-heavy Adult 50+ audience.
CNN’s strength of audience is better balanced with total audience, thus it is important to look at the programs in the key demographic of Adults 25-54. Why not compare primetime to primetime on the cable channels? Because their formats and anchors appeal to vastly difference kinds of audience. It is much more fair to look at how the programs perform in the time period against their competitors.
Unfortunately, this has been a very inconsistent time period in scheduling different programs, specials and substitute anchors. In having a steady anchor last week (and some real controversy between CNN and Fox News), OUT IN THE OPEN has grown +9% in the key demographic. Consistency reigns however, and both COUNTDOWN and BILL O’REILLY beat the program significantly for the week and month.
LKL’s audience can great fluctuate based on his guests and subject. He consistently beats DAN ABRAMS on MSNBC, but rarely tops HANNITY and COLMBS on Fox. With substitute hosts and varying topics, LKL has actually decreased in audience over the course of the month, registering a -22% decrease off of his non-event week of Sept. 3-7. In weeks when he focuses on guests in the news, or the news topic itself, he can generate audiences almost double what Sept. 24-28 showed (238,000).
Now here is where it gets interesting. GRETA did beat 360 for the month, but 360 was able to gain enough audience over the course of the month to cut the audience advantage GRETA had over 360 almost in HALF. That rarely happens in news, as people are typically set in their ways in who they watch. 360 started out the month almost 15% behind GRETA in looking at FIRST RUN, 10-11PM (we all know 360, 11P-12MD is a rebroadcast for the most part, and Fox airs different programming. We are comparing time period to time period here. By the end of the month, even with a poorer showing September 24-28, 360 cut GRETA’s advantage percentage to 9%. Not bad….
GRETA, unfortunately “cleaned 360’s clock” the last week of September with a 22% advantage.
Did 360 have some great weeks – sure Iraq coverage had a 13% advantage over GRETA.
The first two days of OJ coverage helped 360 (didn’t beat GRETA), but it “fell off the cliff” on Wednesday of the OJ week by keeping too much on the story and not presenting a strong, full hour of compelling news. The rest of the week performed well, but with a substitute anchor, nothing like GRETA’s audience. It shows that audience do have “story fatigue.”
8PM on CNN will continue to struggle against consistent viewers of COUNTDOWN and BILL O’REILLY.
9PM with LKL can provide a great lead-in program for 360 when he is hosting and the guest or subject is compelling. This program has the most audience swings of all the CNN primetime programs.
10PM – the “wild card.” Special coverage, knowing when to leave a story, full hard-hitting news in combination with the twists and turns 360 is allowed to take even though it is considered a “news program,” can boost the audience the most. The Iraq coverage, promoted heavily for four days gained in audience each night. OJ analysis also did well until the audience clearly tired of the story. The latest ratings, in a “normal” news week, have not been kind to 360 and GRETA has beaten it by 22%. But, and it is a big but. Since 360 has a much better percentage of audience in Adults 25-54 versus GRETA, her old skewing audience would typically remain loyal. The new broadcast primetime season began, and there are lots of new 10PM programs to pull younger demographics away from news. This, on top of the commercial experimentation on 360 may need to settle down over the course of the next few months. Men demographics will be affected by the Baseball playoffs, World Series, ESPN’s Monday Night Football, along with more primetime programs premiering. Good news: CNN has much more DVR audience than does Fox News. Fox’s audience primarily watches their programs live. CNN and MSNBC can pick up at least a 10% audience gain with the final audience published by Nielsen, and 10% can mean a lot in the key demographic advertisers want. It means almost nothing in the older demographics to advertisers.
And it’s all about ratings for the advertisers. Talk to you next week and we’ll only look at a week’s performance from now on. Let me know your questions. I’ll do my best to answer them!
AUDIENCE AVERAGE, Adults 25-54, WEEK OF SEPT. 24-28, 2007:
Fox News: 475,000
Fox News: 334,000
Fox News: 313,000
*Abrams only aired 3 days – “event” debate aired and “Doc Block” on Friday. Those programs would not be sold as “Abrams.”
**Excludes “event” debate; average audience determined for five days.
SOURCE: Courtesy, Nielsen Media Research; Demographics and weeks as noted; LIVE+Same Day DVR (referred to as LS).