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Cable News: The Tortoise and The Hares?

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Written By

March 16th, 2008

180px-the_tortoise_and_the_hare_-_project_gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg Much has been written lately about some of the stratospheric ratings numbers that CNN and MSNBC have achieved during this presidential primary season. Of course, you can see much of that in our long term trend charts of cable news ratings.

Fox News has for quite some time lead cable news ratings by most measures, so the recent heights to which CNN and MSNBC have risen have caused some to wonder whether it's just a series of temporary blips during what has been an historically tight Democratic primary season, or whether there might be a longer lasting effect to the cable news ratings landscape.

We've looked at some of the data on the recent big ratings nights in cable news, as well as the following days ratings, and the pattern does not bode well for any long term rearrangement of the cable news pecking order.

Like Aesop's hares, CNN and MSNBC ratings do leap ahead on the nights when either they have hosted a debate or there is a big primary night, but fall back quickly to their status quo level the next day, suggesting that casual cable news viewers tune in for those big events, but will not become longer term viewers. Fox News, like Aesop's tortoise, doesn't jump up nearly as much on big primary nights, but also doesn't fall off nearly as sharply afterwards. And we all know how that fabled race turned out.

I'm a casual cable news viewer myself and get 99% of my news from the web. I no longer watch election returns on television since the network websites have gotten so much better (particularly CNN's). But put OJ in the Bronco or give me live video of a hurricane and I'll watch television news.

On to the data:
Click any of the images below for a full sized version. Sadly, they're still a bit difficult to see clearly.

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Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 
  • Jim Gibson

    No, MSNBC will not hold viewers seeking balanced news coverage even if they tune in for special event (such as an election debate.
    The reason is simple. Having Keith Olbermann “sit in” as a serious journalist when he is the most blatant advocate for his cause (perhaps spell it “KOS) insults the intelligence of the viewer. When he co-anchors serious “news” it removes the underpinnings of MSNBC as a reliable news outlet. Please, MSNBC, wake up! – You are ruining the reputation of the once great NBC. And taking off Tucker Carlson further makes my point.

  • Jim Gibson

    No, MSNBC will not hold viewers seeking balanced news coverage even if they tune in for special event (such as an election debate.
    The reason is simple. Having Keith Olbermann “sit in” as a serious journalist when he is the most blatant advocate for his cause (perhaps spell it “KOS) insults the intelligence of the viewer. When he co-anchors serious “news” it removes the underpinnings of MSNBC as a reliable news outlet. Please, MSNBC, wake up! – You are ruining the reputation of the once great NBC. And taking off Tucker Carlson further makes my point.

  • Jim Gibson

    Oh, my main point…. please dump Olbermann !!

  • Jim Gibson

    Oh, my main point…. please dump Olbermann !!

  • Jim Gibson

    Oh, my main point…. please dump Olbermann !!

  • Charles Harris

    Have now confirmed that MSNBC and NBC are
    the worst networks and the most biased. It
    is a shame that this occurs in America. When
    dishonest media performs, the people suffer.

    Glad I have FOX to watch.

    PS Olberman is a total idiot. A joke.

  • Charles Harris

    Have now confirmed that MSNBC and NBC are
    the worst networks and the most biased. It
    is a shame that this occurs in America. When
    dishonest media performs, the people suffer.

    Glad I have FOX to watch.

    PS Olberman is a total idiot. A joke.

  • Charles Harris

    Have now confirmed that MSNBC and NBC are
    the worst networks and the most biased. It
    is a shame that this occurs in America. When
    dishonest media performs, the people suffer.

    Glad I have FOX to watch.

    PS Olberman is a total idiot. A joke.

  • Dave

    Jim this is a perfect line.
    Having Keith Olbermann “sit in” as a serious journalist when he is the most blatant advocate for his cause (perhaps spell it “KOS) insults the intelligence of the viewer.
    This network is now officially the moveon.org channel. It is so funny the way they are tearing down Clinton like she was a Republican. Just wait until they get the real thing. Also Matthews said Obama sends a chill up his leg when he speaks kind of makes me sick.

  • Dave

    Jim this is a perfect line.
    Having Keith Olbermann “sit in” as a serious journalist when he is the most blatant advocate for his cause (perhaps spell it “KOS) insults the intelligence of the viewer.
    This network is now officially the moveon.org channel. It is so funny the way they are tearing down Clinton like she was a Republican. Just wait until they get the real thing. Also Matthews said Obama sends a chill up his leg when he speaks kind of makes me sick.

  • Dave

    Jim this is a perfect line.
    Having Keith Olbermann “sit in” as a serious journalist when he is the most blatant advocate for his cause (perhaps spell it “KOS) insults the intelligence of the viewer.
    This network is now officially the moveon.org channel. It is so funny the way they are tearing down Clinton like she was a Republican. Just wait until they get the real thing. Also Matthews said Obama sends a chill up his leg when he speaks kind of makes me sick.

  • ADAM

    Keith Overbite is a partisan hack with ratings in the toilet. His sprayed on hair and pathetic special comments are a joke

  • ADAM

    Keith Overbite is a partisan hack with ratings in the toilet. His sprayed on hair and pathetic special comments are a joke

  • ADAM

    Keith Overbite is a partisan hack with ratings in the toilet. His sprayed on hair and pathetic special comments are a joke

  • http://tim-ryan-ferghotmail.com Tim

    Keith Oberman comes off as a speed reader for the political spokesman of NBC.

  • http://tim-ryan-ferghotmail.com Tim

    Keith Oberman comes off as a speed reader for the political spokesman of NBC.

  • http://tim-ryan-ferghotmail.com Tim

    Keith Oberman comes off as a speed reader for the political spokesman of NBC.

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