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Bad ratings news at CNN

Dull candidates and new competition spell trouble for net

NEW YORK — CNN could use another White House scandal.

The cable news giant, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has seen its ratings erode over the past year, thanks in part to a slower news cycle, and increased competition on cable and the Internet.

With a 0.6 rating (equivalent to 432,000 homes), CNN plummeted 35% in primetime household delivery during 2000’s second quarter compared with the same period last year (.9/664,000), according to Nielsen Media Research.

Daytime decline

CNN also dipped 36% in total day delivery (from 394,000 homes to 253,000) during the same time period, marking the fourth consecutive quarter that it has decreased year-to-year in both primetime and total day. In fact, the quarter marks CNN’s lowest in primetime household delivery since fourth quarter 1987.

CNN attributes the ratings losses to an unusually slow news period. A CNN spokeswoman said the net “has always been cyclical because we are dependent on the news environment. We expect viewers will continue to tune to us for election 2000 coverage.”

Critics snipe that CNN would be wise not to count on the Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore campaigns for rousing much viewer interest.

To be fair, CNN’s competition hasn’t had an easy ride either this quarter. Both CNBC and MSNBC suffered double-digit decreases in primetime, down 20% and 16%, respectively. And CNN is still the category leader in primetime, outdelivering the competition with an average of 432,000 viewers, significantly more than Fox News Channel’s 238,000, CNBC’s 276,000 and MSNBC’s 196,000. Plus, the net is quick to note that 19 of the top 20 most watched programs on cable news this quarter were aired on CNN.

During the day, CNN has reason to worry. For the first time ever, CNBC beat CNN this quarter in total day delivery, posting an 11% advantage in households. For total day during second quarter, CNBC scored a 0.4/280,000, compared with CNN’s 0.3/253,000.

Fox on the prowl

And Fox News Channel is breathing down CNN’s neck. While CNN was down 46% in delivery of 25- to 54-year-olds during the second quarter, Fox increased 15% in the key demo. Now in more than 50 million homes, FNC continued its quarterly year-to-year growth in both 24-hour and primetime periods for its ninth consecutive quarter, displaying a 15% increase in primetime households from 1999’s second quarter and 20% increase in total day delivery.

Among the primetime gainers year to year, Lifetime improved 21% (1.4 to 1.7); History, 28% (0.7 to 0.9); and Sci Fi, 14% (0.7 to 0.8). Both Travel Channel and Odyssey increased 50% (from 0.2 to 0.3), while Food Network jumped by 33% (0.3 to 0.4) and FX gained by 17% (0.6 to 0.7).

Among the cable nets to decline in primetime this quarter compared with last year’s: USA skidded by 8% (2.4 to 2.2); Family Channel dipped 12% (0.8 to 0.7); VH1 dropped 33% (0.6 to 0.4); Nickelodeon, 10% (2.0 to 1.8), TNT, 10% (2.1 to 1.9); TNN, 25% (0.8 to 0.6); and BET, 17% (0.6 to 0.5).

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