Even Joy Behar, HLN's pseudo-newscaster at the 9 pm slot, beat CNN's Larry King Live 21 times during the first quarter of 2010. King suffered the worst ratings of his CNN career.
Anderson Cooper, who used to rely on King's historically impressive viewership for a ratings boost of his own, dropped 42 percent of his viewers. All this despite his coverage of major news events this year such as the Haiti earthquake and the health care battle on the Hill.
For its part, CNN brass are refusing to make significant changes. They insisted there would be no reorganization of the channel's prime time lineup. Instead, they plan on airing a number of "specials" designed to lure viewers from the competition.
The LA Times brushes up against speculation in its report on the Q1 ratings:
Maybe it just means that anger sells. Maybe it means that television has gone niche, appealing to core audiences rather than the middle. Or maybe this really is, at heart, a conservative nation.Put aside the notion that CNN completely avoids liberal opinion. It doesn't. But O'Reilly has a point. People want to be stimulated, not just talked to. Fox realized this long ago. MSNBC is catching on.
Whatever the reason, the trend is clear. Voted out of office in 2006 and 2008, Republicans are now the Party of Opposition. And their network of choice, Fox News, is now king…
[Bill] O'Reilly has a theory about all this. “CNN basically stayed where they were 10 years ago, they didn’t change with the times,” he told Newsmax.com. “We live in a very intense country right now, a very difficult time. CNN doesn’t reflect that urgency.”
The standout on the Fox News lineup agrees that CNN does a great job of reporting the news. But he points out that, thanks to the Internet, most viewers already know the day's news, and are looking to cable networks for analysis and perspective.
For their part, CNN executives claim they are committed to presenting the news from a nonpartisan, neutral point of view, telling the New York Times they will not change their approach to prime-time programming.
Maybe they should reconsider.
CNN is still clinging to the notion that having a television station makes your words more interesting than someone else's. It's not enough to report the news. CNN needs to start reporting it in ways its dwindling viewership finds engaging and entertaining.
The Times is correct that in the world of cable news, opinion sells. Most people do not get their news from cable TV. Those that do are generally opinionated. So CNN is catering to a market that really isn't there.
Since CNN presents its viewers with watered-down liberalism, it will always be stomped by MSNBC's in-your-face liberalism. No one is begging for another outspoken liberal cable news network. One is plenty. But CNN may want to rethink its prime time strategy.