MSNBC Struggling in the Ratings

Via the NYTMSNBC Is Close to Falling to Third Place in Cable News Ratings

The ratings results for the month of September show that CNN, long relegated to third place in the prime-time cable news competition, is edging its way back up, while MSNBC is moving in the other direction.

What’s always striking (to me, at least) about cable new numbers is how small they actually are in comparison to the public at large:

For the month, CNN averaged 257,000 viewers in prime time in the category that counts most to the networks — viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 — because that is where the advertising money goes for news programming. MSNBC was just barely ahead with 269,000 viewers. (Neither approached the leader, Fox News, with 526,000).

As well as show-specific numbers:

The change in the September ratings was most noticeable at 8 p.m., where CNN has moved its best-known host, Anderson Cooper. The network’s performance during that hour has improved by 38 percent over last year, growing to 215,000 viewers from 156,000.

On MSNBC, meanwhile, Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 100,000 viewers from the numbers Mr. Olbermann posted last September, with 185,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, a drop of 35 percent. (Bill O’Reilly on Fox, as always, dwarfs his competitors with about three times as many viewers, 611,000.)

FILED UNDER: Media, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Eric Florack says:

    MSNBC andCNN have been cellar dwellers for years now. Hardly news, this.

    The numbers you mention are directly tied to how far to the left each network tilts. That link has been well-established.

  2. @Eric Florack:

    More people watch Jersey Shore than any show on Fox so what does that yell you?

  3. MBunge says:

    I wonder if anyone is going to ask those MSNBC suits who dumped Olbermann about this trend? That network was on its way to oblivion when The Ego That Walks Like A Man showed everyone how to compete and prosper in this environment. And whatever his faults as a commentator, Olbermann was willing to connect with his audience on an equal footing. O’Donnell, meanwhile, is almost the perfect example of how some liberals need to talk down to everyone, even their own supporters.


  4. Sam says:

    I can’t for the life of me understand why the ratings are so consistently low.

    I mean this is the network that brought us Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and John Chancellor and Roger Mudd.

    Now they bring to us the best and brightest in Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton.

    We could see three unbiased non-partisans in Ralph Madcow and Lawrence whats his name and the other one no longer there, um, um, can’t remember his name now.

    Every program has both sides to debate the issues and allows the viewer to decide.

    It Is baffling!

    And that Faux News consistently has the top 8 or 10 spots in cable news ratings. whats up with that?

  5. Sam says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I don’t think that is correct unless you are speaking of Fox NEWS shows.
    Remember, Fox also has Glee, American Idol, Cops etc.

  6. @Sam:

    Of course I’m talking about Fox News.

    Fox News Channel and Fox Television are separate entities that happen to share common ownership.

    Steven is writing about cable news networks, so I was talking about a cable news network.

    As for why Fox News has higher ratings that CNN or MSNBC, I believe P.T. Barnum got it right when he said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

  7. Sam says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    then why the comparison of a non news show to the news entity?

  8. Sam.

    Because I constantly hear from Fox News acolytes that the fact that the network gets higher ratings proves something. All it proves is that they get higher ratings. Although, as I pointed, out more people watch Snooki and The Situation than watch Hannity and Greta

  9. Moosebreath says:

    “More people watch Jersey Shore than any show on Fox so what does that yell you? ”

    As Mencken said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”.

  10. Sam says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, without a doubt, FNC has the best damn looking women on any news show!

  11. Moderate Mom says:

    MSNBC made a conscientious decision to veer leftward as George Bush’s approval ratings fell, in an effort to pick up angry Liberals and disaffected Independents. Then they went all in and hitched their wagon to Obama’s star, going even more to the left. As Obama’s approval ratings have fallen, so has their viewership. How surprising.

  12. MBunge says:

    @Moderate Mom: “MSNBC made a conscientious decision to veer leftward as George Bush’s approval ratings fell”

    Olbermann was screeching against Bush II and getting ratings for it looooong before the rest of the country caught up.


  13. john personna says:

    I don’t know how typical I am, but I get up and look at my iGoogle dashboard. It shows me how markets are trending, and how many Google Reader articles I have queued. I never go to TV first.

    What I typically do is read on-line, and only go turn on the TV when the ‘net has told me there is something important to see.

    I’m not surprised that cable news demographic is old, and if Fox is “oldest” then sure, they should have top ratings … until their demographic disappears.

  14. James in LA says:

    @john personna: Absolutely. TV is for weather alerts in terms of newsworthiness. What these cable programs proclaim is increasingly less relevant to my information streams, which come from all over the planet. They are also diverging further away from the shared reality.

    CNN lost me when they put up 12 pundits (majority GOP) with little flip-books with numbers to rate President Obama’s SECOND 100 days in office. Not his first. Now, they crammed all these people onto a stage where they were half-covered in by what used to be called super computers, but you would call them “laptops.” But because the average age of the audience is 109, they had to fall back on the flip books. It was horrible, and it went on FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF. I could only stand about 10 minutes of it. I may have permanent scars.

    It is an ongoing crippling mistake to let those who know nothing of data networks to continue their endless bank-busting campaigns at our expense.

  15. Andre Kenji says:

    There is a missing point here: CNBC, that has relativelly low ratings numbers, is pretty profitable because they have high income people watching. I think that NBC always wanted MSNBC to be a general viewer version of CNBC, while Griffin wanted MSNBC to be the left´s answer to Fox.

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    More people watch Jersey Shore than any show on Fox so what does that yell you?

    That we as a nation are ******* DOOMED!!!!

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    @Moderate Mom: It’s a little more complex than that. Liberals are less likely to be interested in watching a news channel which advertizes itself as “liberal” because liberals are generally more open-minded and don’t want to hear “liberal” opinions only. The echo-chamber is more a “conservative” phenomenon.

  18. Drew says:

    “On MSNBC, meanwhile, Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 100,000 viewers from the numbers Mr. Olbermann posted last September, with 185,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, a drop of 35 percent.”

    It just goes to show that crazed diatribes with spittle visibly flying sells.

  19. DIANE says: