CNN Ad Campaign Uses Whatever Numbers Necessary To Make Its Point

Categories: Cable TV

Written By

July 17th, 2009

A recent TV ad campaign by CNN has become an occasion for the cable news competitors to take to the trade press and duke it out. As the LA Times points out, CNN's campaign touts its "total viewers" numbers. That is the total number of viewers who watched even 6 minutes a month on the network.

While we report daily cable news ratings, you won't see "total viewers" numbers on our site (we don't get them), nor anywhere else online, on a regular basis, because we like to focus on numbers that drive the TV business, and those don't. We focus on "average viewers" (and when possible, target age demographic viewers) for shows and networks. That's how advertising gets priced and purchased, and how the TV networks make their money.

Cable news channel CNN's latest ad campaign is raising quite a few eyebrows and has a competitor crying foul.

In a new television spot aimed at getting advertisers to spend more on the network, CNN proclaims it is "No. 1, with more viewers than Fox and MSNBC." The ad goes on to say that CNN has held the top spot for seven years in a row.

This came as a news flash to Fox and MSNBC, considering that both top CNN in the ratings. During the second quarter, Fox News -- which has been handily beating CNN since January 2002 -- more than doubled CNN's audience in prime time and for the entire day. Even MSNBC, a onetime also-ran in the cable news wars, topped CNN in weekday prime-time ratings for the first time in the second quarter.

At issue is the metric that CNN is using in the advertisement to back its claim. The cable news channel is attributing its No. 1 status to a cumulative number that reflects anyone who watched CNN for six minutes in a given month, a tidbit it chose not to disclose in the ad.

That metric, known in the industry as "total viewers," is not one that advertisers traditionally use when determining where to spend their money. The total viewers figure does not measure how many people watched most of a program, but rather the number who tuned in for at least a few minutes.

For example, 33.6 million people watched a few snippets of Major League Baseball's All-Star game Tuesday night, but only 14.6 million people viewed the entire game. The latter figure is the number that determines advertising rates.

via Los Angeles Times.

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