The end of the month is always greeted by cable networks claiming new ratings milestones, especially during the summer. They can do this with some impunity, since if they had a really rotten month there are simply too many of them for us reporter types to track them down and call them out.
Still, MSNBC cited one highly illuminating statistic in its ratings release, as did CNN.
MSNBC — the youngest-skewing of the three cable news networks — cited the (relatively) strong performance by its primetime hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow among adults age 18-34, averaging 124,000 viewers and 93,000 for their primary airings, respectively, in that demographic. In addition, Maddow drew more viewers in that demo than CNN's "Larry King," at 72,000.
Or, in other words, of the 1.09 million people watching King on an average night, less than 10% are under 35. And the ratio for MSNBC (Maddow averaged 996,000 viewers overall) isn't much better.
Small wonder that the median viewing ages for the three cablers are 64 (Fox News), 62 (CNN) and 59 (MSNBC).
Now, newspapers of course have no right to be smug about this, since their readership is also older, as is the audience for the networks' nightly newscasts. It's a huge problem for everyone in the news business — namely, that younger people take less of an interest in news, and when they do, they get less of their information from television.
The other factoid came from CNN, which again bragged that it reaches more viewers over the course of a month than Fox News — despite the fact that Fox's average audience at any given moment exceeds that of CNN and MSNBC combined.
Again, this mirrors the difference between newsradio and talkradio: More people drop in on CNN to make sure the world hasn't gone to hell, but Fox News loyalists watch for much longer periods, mostly because they tune into their evening hosts and stay there.
Frankly, I'm not sure this argument is a winner for CNN — advertisers care about who sees their commercials, not who drops in from time to time — but it does reinforce some of the points in my recent column about the roots of FNC's success.
Here's that note from CNN's press release:
CNN continues to reach more viewers than any cable news
network, while HLN tops MSNBC among cumulative audiences in August:
CNN: 109,168,000, FNC: 99,314,000, HLN: 93,467,000,
CNN: 49,163,000, FNC: 44,168,000, HLN:
42,693,000, MSNBC: 40,337,000