MSNBC played a deft round of Hide the Weenie the day before 2014 cable news ratings came out, when it leaked to the LA Times a memo from its president Phil Griffin to staff, in which he navel lint gazed about how “technology is continuing to drive unprecedented changes across the media landscape.” In the memo, Griffin said the cable news nets need to “be taking a hard, honest look at how we need to evolve along with it” — as though technology was the biggest of MSNBC’s problems and the reason it’s winding up the year behind Fox News Channel and CNN.
In a masterful bit of understatement, the LAT noted the release of the memo was an “attempt to get ahead of the bad ratings news” and acknowledged that Griffin did not reveal any specific plans to alter MSNBC’s lineup of left-leaning political talk-show hosts, except a vague promise to “invest more in programming and news coverage beyond the Beltway.”
CNN made a similar play last week, when it leaked a memo from chief Jeff Zucker, in which he boasted CNN U.S. had a “terrific year,” though one that was not without its challenges. The network, Zucker said, was ending 2014 in its best shape in many years, journalistically, competitively — and financially, which might be owing in part to its end-of-year campaign to cut roughly 8% of its staff – about 300 jobs — as part of parent Time Warner’s strategy to boost stock price.
But CNN will close out 2014 with some all-time ratings lows. In primetime, the network has delivered its worst-rated year in total viewers and its second-lowest in the news demo. In total day, CNN clocked its worst-rated year in the news demo. On the bright side, it will wrap 2014 ahead of MSNBC in the news demo; through December 22, MSNBC lost 17% of its primetime news demo viewers, clocking a worst-since-2005 169,000 of them. To put this in perspective, this is roughly the size crowd as that of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, according to a recent photo census (which, unlike MSNBC, represents an increase in number — the largest population for the Porcupine Caribou Herd since the early 1990s).
CNN’s primetime news demo crowd — while bigger than that caribou herd, at 181,000 viewers — represents a 1% slide. Fox News Channel, meanwhile, is way out front with 302,000 primetime news demo viewers and, like the Porcupine Caribou Herd population, FNC’s population grew — by 3%.
As 2014 draws to a close, FNC celebrates its 13th consecutive year as the most-watched cable news network, though it too had its disappointments. In total day, FNC is down 4% in total viewers (1.05 million) and same percent in news demo viewers, though it finished laps ahead of its competition in both metrics.
FNC rings out the year ranked No. 4 among ad-supported basic cable networks in overall primetime audience, behind only ESPN, USA Network and TNT; it also ranks No. 4 in total. CNN and MSNBC are way back in the 20s and 30s.
“We’re going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans,” Griffin said in that memo to staff and LAT.
Speaking of stories that move and inspire Americans – how about missing airplanes? If you’re wondering why CNN stuck like glue to the news about the latest missing airplane last weekend, it quacked like an effort to goose year-end ratings. Back in March, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, CNN enjoyed a big ratings boost with flood-the-zone coverage. Over two weeks, the missing-plane story goosed CNN’s total-day news demo numbers by 102% compared with pre-disappearance.
In that same period of time, MSNBC’s numbers dropped 10%.