Maybe CNN execs can learn something from this about the direction they should take their network: When real news occurs, such as the dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners this week, CNN’s ratings soar.
That’s what happened Tuesday night as the world held its breath waiting for the first of the 33 miners to be pulled from the deep hole they’d been trapped in for 68 days. Fox News Channel still beat CNN from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., the hours when FNC always dominates whether there’s a big news story or not. But CNN scored numbers far and above what the network usually draws for its lineup of low-rated talk shows from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by ‘Anderson Cooper 360.’
From 8 to 11 on Tuesday, FNC averaged 3.2 million viewers, according to The Huffington Post. But CNN drew 1.95 million during the same time period, a huge jump for the perennial third-place finisher. How huge? On Monday night, CNN’s 8-11 p.m. programs averaged 347,000 viewers, reported the L.A. Times. For its part, MSNBC came in third in Tuesday’s prime-time race with 1.02 million.
Even more significant for CNN, the struggling news channel beat its two competitors in the hours after prime time, starting at 11 p.m. That was the hour in which the first miner was brought up safely, and just shy of 4 million viewers watched the miracle rescue on CNN, 3.5 million on FNC and 1.1 million on MSNBC. And CNN held on to its lead into the wee hours of the morning.
So, what does this tell us? It tells us that, when it comes to important, dramatic, breaking news, a great many people look to CNN to give them the straight story – a lot more people than are interested in turning on CNN to watch the likes of ‘Parker Spitzer.’ A reputation for reliable reporting appears to be the strength that CNN should be exploiting in its efforts to differentiate itself from FNC and MSNBC.
But the problem is, CNN isn’t trying to differentiate itself. It’s trying to join FNC and MSNBC in the high-decibel talk-show arena, represented principally at the moment by the ‘Parker Spitzer’ show, which is scoring such low ratings that guests won’t even agree to appear on it, according to the New York Post.
So how about it? Should CNN get out of the talk show business and focus exclusively on what it does best – gathering and reporting news? When real news breaks, who do you rely on – CNN, FNC, MSNBC?