Michael Jackson Coverage: CNN Co-founder Hails Very Temporary Ratings Bump

July 9th, 2009 9:36 AM

When last we left CNN co-founder, Reese Schonfeld, he was in a deep funk over the horrible ratings of the network he helped create. He had hoped that the election of Barack Obama as president would help that ailing network's ratings but, as reported by Schonfeld, a harsh reality quickly set in:

Now, seven months after Barack Obama's victory, CNN's ratings have gone down the drain. From May of last year to May of this year, CNN lost 22% of its total primetime audience. MSNBC was down 2%, while FoxNews was up 24%. In the key advertising demographic (25-54), Fox was up 31%, CNN was down 37% and MSNBC was down 26%. In hard numbers, Fox had 109,000 more viewers than last year while CNN lost 113,000. CNN averaged fewer than 200,000 25-54 viewers in primetime. Even MSNBC averaged more viewers than that. 

However, hope springs eternal and Reese, writing in his Huffington Post blog, has grasped upon the straw of a small green shoot sprouting through the ugly pavement.  Since things have not been going at all well at CNN, let us allow Schonfeld the pleasure of basking in the very dim glow of questionable glory:

Cable ratings for the first week in July have just been released, and CNN has done far better than anyone had any right to expect.

Woo Hoo! I'm excited! Please continue with the details, Reese:

I have not written about last week's, last month's, last quarter's ratings, because there was nothing new there. CNN was down, down, down. Last quarter, FoxNews, in primetime, was up 34% in total viewers, CNN was down 10%. In adults 25-54, the key advertising demo, FoxNews was up 50% and CNN was down 19%. In total day audience, Fox was up 33% while CNN gained only 8%. And in the key demo, 25-54, total day, Fox was up 44%, and CNN was up 1%. It seemed to me that political preferences were driving viewers to Fox, while political displeasure was costing CNN its audience.

But then Michael Jackson "saved" the day...at least for now:

This week tells a different story. CNN has the best ratings its had in months, finishing seventh among all advertising-supported networks in primetime viewers. Fox is still ahead in third place, but it's a tiny gap compared to previous weeks, and CNN beat Fox in the 25-54 category by a narrow margin. In total day, FoxNews finished sixth and CNN ninth. And in 25-54, CNN was only 33,000 viewers behind Fox--again, a considerable improvement.

Wow! CNN is all the way up to SEVENTH place? You must be so proud. And now Schonfeld explains the reason behind this ratings "miracle":

Why the exception to a sixth-month long trend? Michael Jackson. Jackson's death brought all sorts of new viewers to the cable news networks, and it's obvious that most of them turned to CNN. CNN is still seen, by most people who are not news junkies, as the place to turn to for news they really care about. It's unfortunate that the news they seem to care about is the death of an entertainer, no matter how great, when there are things happening in the world that will affect them and their children much more significantly.

Congratulations on being at the forefront of endless wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson. Now if only this situation could be replicated every week, right?

Although Schonfeld previously suggested that anger was the reason for Fox News ratings domination, he seems to have stumbled onto the true explanation in the final paragraph:

I suggest that CNN and the other cable news networks spend some time thinking about how they can make it clear to Americans that the dire straits of our economy and the deep divide between us and Islamic Fundamentalists is much more meaningful to them then the death of any celebrity. It's about time the networks found ways to do interesting stories about truly serious situations. If CNN can't do that, the Michael Jackson story will remain a lonely exception.

You mean quit being mere cheerleaders for the Obama administration and ignoring the terrorist threat like what CNN  (and MSNBC) continues to do? And thank you for pinpointing the real reason for why Fox News continues to lead by a vast margin among all cable news networks. 

Meanwhile, enjoy that temporary seventh place CNN ratings finish due to the continuous Michael Jackson coverage.