CNN’s Early Morning Ratings Crisis…
This has been flying around all day but I’m only getting to it now. TV by the Numbers writes up CNN’s new morning shows’ ratings free fall…
CNN’s new morning shows Early Start and Starting Point notched the lowest quarterly average demo (adults 25-54) viewership and total viewership (P2+) in the first quarter of 2012* for any CNN morning shows in the 5-7am and 7-9am periods in more than a decade.
I chose the word “crisis” in my headline deliberately. This is indeed a crisis scenario for CNN. Normally when a network makes a show change it’s because the numbers aren’t where the network wants them to be. The worst the network expects in the near term is for the new show to have ratings in line with the old show. A ratings free fall is the last thing a network would possibly contemplate.
And yet a ratings free fall is precisely the scenario that now confronts CNN with Early Start and Starting Point. The network lost a chunk of its American Morning audience. You remember American Morning don’t you? That was the show that was supposedly underperforming forever for CNN. And yet now CNN is facing numbers that are worse than American Morning ever did in a quarter.
In ratings terms it’s not a necessarily disaster but in PR terms it is an unmitigated disaster. CNN will publicly make the case that this is an ongoing process and that the network is committed to both Early Start and Starting Point. There is some truth to this because CNN made a big public display by attaching VP and Managing Editor Mark Whitaker’s name so prominently to these launches so any admission of trouble would immediately be tracked back to Whitaker because these two shows, particularly Starting Point, were his projects.
But it’s still a PR disaster for CNN, long term commitment or not, precisely because nobody was expecting the numbers to be worse now than four months ago. And breaking a 10 year history barrier? You just can’t spin your way out of that. Media writers like nice neat pithy headlines that are easy to disseminate and nothing could be pithier or easier to disseminate than “CNN breaks 10 year low in the morning”.
The only thing Media writers love more than nice neat pithy headlines that are easy to disseminate are TV show death watches. If CNN’s new shows had kept American Morning’s ratings that would be one thing; the headlines would be “New CNN shows fail to attract new audiences”. But by having ratings that crater for a whole quarter and break a (greater than) 10 year low, the writers will now be less forgiving and start taking bets on how long one or both of these shows will be allowed to continue without wholesale changes.
This is why the PR for both shows is so critical for CNN and why the ratings problems have taken control of the storyline CNN wants to tell away from the network. If enough articles come out putting a bad spin on both shows they will act as a poison pill and keep viewers who might want to check out either show away. This could shorten the time frame CNN has to tinker before more radically drastic changes have to be contemplated. Both shows could use some positive buzz right now to stem the tide of negativism that’s hammering CNN. We should be looking for a few positive stories being planted in the weeks to come to try and disrupt what has quickly become a loser of a story for the network.