hopes of reclaiming No. 1 from Fox News Channel were dealt a major
setback this week with the disappointing premieres of “Anderson
Cooper 360” and “Paula Zahn Now.”
The audience for “Cooper” on Monday was down 47 percent in
the 7 p.m. time slot occupied last year by “Crossfire,” to 319,000
people, while “Zahn's” audience of 508,000 people was down 45 percent
in the 8 p.m. time slot briefly occupied by the canceled “Connie
Chung.” All figures are based on preliminary Nielsen Media Research
CNN's new programs pulled in roughly one-third the viewers
of competing shows on Fox News. Most notably, “Zahn” faced “The
O'Reilly Factor,” which was watched by more than 1.4 million people
despite having a guest host on Monday.
Of course, first-night ratings aren't enough to determine
whether a show will be a hit or not. Moreover, CNN has yet to promote
the shows to the extent it did “Connie Chung.”
But clearly the “Cooper” and “Zahn” debuts are discouraging.
“I think they would rather have had it start out high, although
there is a chance they can build it up,” says Brad Adgate, senior
vice president and corporate research director at Horizon Media.
“They are trying to make [the network] personality driven, which
is what Fox News has been able to do with people like Bill O'Reilly.
It seems Fox News has been able to create appointment viewing, but
it's a little harder to be the second person in on that.”
The audiences for CNN's new shows, which are actually reworked
formats for CNN hosts, follow the network's disastrous performance
CNN's primetime audience fell 15 percent from last summer,
to 746,000 people, and was down 9 percent in August.
Those declines can be attributed in part to comparisons
to this time last year, when the first anniversary of 9/11 was approaching
and a war in Iraq seemed increasingly likely.
Fox News' audience, however, was up significantly from that
The network's audience in the summer was up 22 percent, to
1.3 million people, and was up 20 percent in August.
“People might be getting sick of the news and returning to
other things,” says Deana Myers, an analyst with Kagan World Media.
“Fox News has a little bit more sensational news, whereas
CNN just tries to report it.”
CNN's standing in the cable news race is not good for Teya
Ryan, CNN's general manager, who is reportedly being nudged out
of the network.
CNN would not comment on that rumor, but if Ryan were to
leave she'd add to a list of top executives who have left the network.
Walter Isaacson, for instance, resigned as chairman earlier this
The reason for the departures largely comes down to CNN's
The network was down again last week. Its primetime audience
dipped 4 percent from last year, to 791,000 people. That was less
than two-thirds the size of Fox News' 1.25 million viewers, which
was up 34 percent.
Among the adult 25-54 demographic that many news advertisers
favor, CNN's decline has been more pronounced.
Its audience in the demographic fell 13 percent last week,
to 212,000 people, and was down 15 percent in August and 17 percent
in the summer.
In the same time period Fox News posted low- to mid-single
digit increases. Last week its 25-54 audience of 340,000 people
was 2 percent higher than it was in the same week last year.
Perhaps CNN can take some comfort in the fact that it's still
doing better than MSNBC, the No.3-ranked cable news network.
MSNBC's audience in the 25-54 demo was down 53 percent last
week, to 82,000 viewers. That is less than half the size of CNN's
audience and less than one-fourth the size of Fox News' audience.
“They are trying to do the same thing as CNN, but it's very
hard for them,” says Adgate. “They put on some personalities, but
they haven't clicked with viewers.”