Rating the Airliner Story

March 20, 2014 - 4:52 AM

A minor food fight has broken out among news anchors over the amount of attention the missing Malaysian airliner is getting on the cable news programs.

There is no question that CNN has glommed onto this story and is not letting go. The other cable nets are often leading with the latest theory, conjecture, or unsourced leak, but then go onto other things like the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The other day Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly - the master of all he surveys in the ratings - said that, according to MediaBistro.com, "Watching some of this coverage is painful" after criticizing a rival network for doing five minutes on a possible electrical fire on board.

I didn't see that segment, but it is impossible to miss the fact that CNN is now wall-to-wall in its Flight 370 coverage and I wondered why they were betting so heavily on that one story.

The answer is: Ratings.

I looked at a comparison among the three major cable news programs from this past Monday March 17, and two weeks earlier, Monday March 3 - before the jet disappeared.

Across the board the CNN ratings are up. Way up.

There are two ways of looking at ratings. Total viewers and those who are "in the demo." The demo is short for demographic - adults from 25-54 years.

I'm not in the demo. Even when I was between the ages of 25-54, I wasn't in it.

Nevertheless, looking at all viewers (not just those in the demo) we find that on a normal news day - March 3 - starting at 4 PM, Jack Tapper's CNN program drew about 580,000 viewers. This past Monday, with the non-stop coverage of the airliner, Tapper drew almost 800,000 viewers an increase of about 38%.

Alex Wagner's 4 PM show on MSNBC also showed significant gains, in her case about 27%. The loser in the time slot is Neil Cavuto whose 4 PM Fox program lost about 13% of its viewers although at 1.3 million it still crushed the other two.

Moving to five o'clock, FNC's The Five led the group on March 3 with about 2.1 million viewers. Two weeks later they pretty much held their own with a 3 percent rise in viewers to 2.2 million.

The Ed Show on MS got a 6.7 percent boost but the big winner in terms of growth was Wolf Blitzer's 5 PM program that went from about 650,000 viewers on March 3 to 950,000 on March 17 a 46% jolt.

At 6 PM Bret Baier's program was flat over the two nights (but still drew 2.1 million viewers). Al Sharpton lost about 6 percent of his viewers but Blitzer - taking over the whole hour rather than splitting it with Crossfire - kept his 950,000 viewers which was an increase of 38%.

Moving along to 7 PM Greta, like Baier, was flat Monday-over-Monday with about 1.8 million viewers. Chris Matthews lost a whopping 14% of his viewers but Erin Burnett saw an enormous increase of over 77 percent, raising her audience to 892,000.

At 8 PM - the wholly owned subsidiary of Bill O'Reilly - Anderson Cooper's audience rose by nearly 41 percent over two weeks earlier to 836,000. Chris Hayes' MSNBC program was down about 8 percent as were Bill O'Reilly's numbers: Off about 9 percent.

O'Reilly still won the night with a total of over 2.8 million viewers, but that would explain his crankiness at the constant coverage by CNN. That nine percent loss represented 274,000 viewers.

The biggest loser in this comparison occurred at the nine o'clock hour when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow lost nearly 19 percent of her audience while the Piers Morgan slot on CNN gained nearly 78%.

At 10 PM Lawrence O'Donnell dropped about 15 percent of his MSNBC audience while a "Special Report" on CNN gained nearly 78% in that time slot that has proved so difficult for CNN to solve. Hannity held his own, gaining about 4 percent in the 10 PM hour.

CNN has not had much - you should pardon the expression - good news lately, lagging in almost every category in almost every time slot.

But over the period of the missing airplane MSNBC has lost some 288,000 viewers; Fox has held about steady with an increase of 29,000 over the course of the two nights, but an additional 2.7 million people watched CNN from 4 PM through midnight on March 17 than they had two Mondays previous.

That's how you rate an airplane story.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A PDF file showing the spreadsheet I put together so you can compare your favorite (or least favorite) cable news host. Also the brief piece on Bill O'Reilly's complaint. The Mullfoto is evidence of an encroaching Ice Age at least in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.