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News Nets Retain Some War Bounty

May 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Viewers by the millions declared the war in Iraq over well before President Bush was ready to do the same.
By the fourth week of April the year-to-year viewership comparisons were no longer coming with exclamation points attached to 300 percent and 400 percent increases.
According to Nielsen Media Research data for the week of April 21 to 27, Fox News Channel was still running 122 percent ahead of the fourth week of April 2002 for total day and 142 percent in prime time. But CNN was up only 51 percent and 30 percent for total day and prime time, respectively, and MSNBC was up 48 percent and 51 percent.
For April, Fox News Channel was setting and then breaking viewing records and ruled as the most-watched of all cable networks for total day and prime time. For the last week of April, Fox News Channel’s still healthy averages of 1.350 million for total day and 2.343 million in prime time ranked No. 3 among all cable networks for total day, behind Nickelodeon (1.795 million) and TNT (1.374 million). It was No. 2 in prime time (2.343 million) behind TNT (2.744 million).
CNN ranked No. 3 for the month for total day (1.574 million) and No. 3 in prime time (2.272 million) and in the fourth week ranked No. 9 in both total day (735,000 viewers) and prime time (1.047 million).
For the month, MSNBC ranked No. 7 for total day (834,000 viewers) and No. 9 in prime time (1.152 million).
For all of April, Fox News programs claimed the top 10 slots and 22 of the top 25 programs on cable-but in a twist. On the Record With Greta Van Susteren (No. 1) topped The Fox Report With Shepard Smith (No. 2), while Fox’s usual ratings kingpin, The O’Reilly Factor, didn’t factor in until fourth place (plus in seven other Top 25 spots among cable programs for the month, a list that didn’t include a single CNN or MSNBC program).
For the fourth week in April, Factor brought up the rear in a tie for sixth place with wrestling on TNN and SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly Odd Parents on Nickelodeon. Again, there were no CNN or MSNBC programs in the Top 25 for the week.
Though the instinct may be to view the dramatic declines from a glass-half-empty perspective, there are those veterans of the feast-or-famine cycle so peculiar to cable news who insist that the glass is more than half full and that it is not unreasonable to predict that when the post-Iraq viewing pattern settles, each of the big three cable-news networks can reasonably expect to retain some war-driven increases.
They argue that though it seems clear, viewers are recovering from war-watching fatigue, viewership is still noticeably higher than a year ago and that tuning in to news networks has become a habit for more people.
“I think it will settle out at higher levels,” said Jim Hoffman, senior VP of ad sales for NBC News and MSNBC.
Big News Pulls Viewers
“The news viewership has shown sustainable and consistent and unwavering growth for the past year and a half,” said Larry Goodman, president of CNN sales and marketing.
Because big news or the lack of it pulls viewers to and from cable news networks as surely as the moon pulls ocean tides in and out, the record audience levels of the Iraq war boom are unlikely to be converted directly into increased CPMs.
But the ways in which cable news networks can monetize the short-lived boom include the invaluable opportunity to preview postwar lineups to inflated audiences for CNN (which has moved Paula Zahn into prime time) and MSNBC (which hired Keith Olbermann for the second time during the war and which hired Republican former Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough shortly before the war for its prime-time lineup). MSNBC also was able to showcase its renewed mission to be “NBC News on cable.”
Then there is the ease with which they already have been able to wrap up make-goods to advertisers who were displaced while the networks were in commercial-free or commercial-light mode.
“Elevated viewing levels continued up until very recently, so there really is no under-delivery,” said Mr. Hoffman.