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.

24 Responses to “CNN’s Early Morning Ratings Crisis…”

  1. They might want to start by finding someone a bit more sufferable than Soledad.

  2. Not just the worst ratings in 10 years. The worst ratings since just before 9/11.

  3. smokeybehr Says:

    Wait, CNN is still on the air? Is Red Eye at 3AM *still* pwning the 6AM morning shows?

  4. savefarris Says:

    Heck of a job, Soledad. Maybe next time you’ll stop slandering your guests.

  5. Because there are no morning show hosts who slander their guests?

  6. The Problem with the morning shows can be attributed certain factors.
    1. The shows received minimal promotion. They were not promoted in the same vein as Erin Burnett or Pierce Morgan….so the change from AM to Early Start/Starting Point was a bit jarring to morning viewers who are not news junkies.
    2. There is too much analysis….this can be said especially for Early Start which @ 6a is not the time and place for shouting heads. They should have moved the AM format to this show and left the analysis/talking heads to Starting Point.
    3. Starting Point had a weak launch in its first weeks in relation to it’s numerous diner locations. It seemed noisy, amateurish and too many distractions with the people in the background. There was no polish to it as most CNN programming is associated to have.
    4. Chemistry – As has been noted before Early Start has chemistry issues between the “wild” Ashley Banfield, who is more suited to a mid-morning shift than a way too early shift, and the more subdued Zoraida whose AM local news experience has not translated too well to cable news more time is needed with her. Starting Point and it’s rotating cast makes it impossible to settle down on any of the analysts….Will Cain seems to be a regular but that is also up in the air.
    5. CNN failed to realize that there were people who enjoyed getting nothing but news and only news in the morning. AM was actually notching ratings gains as it approached it’s demise, this was partially due to a settled cast in Ali, Christine and Carol. AM had a good format just a revolving door of hosts and EPs.

    Nuff Said. What say you Spud??

  7. Now that was good!

  8. There’s simply no place for these shows. MSNBC, FNC and HLN all have established, loyal audiences, not to mention their broadcast network competition on the East Coast.

  9. Ashley Banfield is too much “something” in the morning. When was the last time she had a truly successful gig? Soledad is beyond sufferable, as Laura said. when will CNN realize she does not relate to people all that well. I always feel like she is talking down to people and she only “tolerates” those who have a different viewpoint than she does.

  10. Ashley..sigh. I get the feeling that she’s an intelligent woman, but she giggles like a 12-yr-old and seems to be flirting with everybody. ‘Annoying’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

  11. Yes, both shows were hastily soft launched. The first few weeks on the road for Early Start I don’t consider as problematic as you do.
    Analysis in the early morning isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it’s what’s being analyzed and how that matters. The rotation on Starting Point…I don’t know if that’s an issue or not. A bigger concern to me is that Starting Point is trying too hard to be a more intellectual Morning Joe. That format may not work out the way CNN wants it to.

    American Morning had to be killed, at least the name. It was past time to make a change after all the years of format and host changes. There was little brand benefit for CNN to retain American Morning as a going concern…all the changes had essentially destroyed the brand. A new show was needed to make a clean break. That isn’t the problem. The problem is what was chosen to replace it with. Viewers aren’t gravitating to it.

  12. Most people , wouldn’t have even noticed that these shows launched. Early Start has no chemistry and Starting point is like Morning Joe on a Budget.

  13. Maybe if CNN would ever invest in a SET, these shows would be a little warmer. Every CNN show except Piers Morgan looks like it’s filmed in a freezing cold warehouse.

  14. It was Starting Point being on the road that I had a problem with….Early Starts’ ATL set actually worked for the show…I also think having one EP for both morning shows is actually a disadvantage and not an advantage….Btw you still have not posted your review for Starting Point.

  15. I know. I’ll get around to it.

  16. they seriously need to change the set, it looks so horrible, and poorly put together with those horrible “repainting”. also i do see the improvement taken place with “Early Start”, especially Zoraida seems to be settling in her job, whilst for Soledad, I simply have no comment. ps. that guest gathering table on Starting Points look even worse than the dinning table i had 10 years ago..

  17. Perhaps it is time to bring back Captain Kangaroo?

  18. Now here’s Bunny Rabit with the news and Mr. Geenjeans with sports.

  19. capricex Says:

    I agree with what the Da_King & Spud said, and I also want to put out some solutions:

    A big time overhaul plan:

    I think All 3 anchors should be moved to different positions during the day, with O’Brien and Banfield in early prime. Banfield Would be good in a Sensational hour news show.

    Drop Burnett and reuse “Outfront” in the Mornings as the new morning show name.

    About a year ago Martin Savage and Kara Phillips anchored special coverage of something on a saturday night and they were great together. Both proven and CNN staples, which is perfect to headline a straight news show. I think that would be a huge overhaul needed for the network.

    What could be done short term:

    1.Change graphics Pack to red for starting point

    2. have Early start be just a head line hour anchored by Zorida like daybreak back in the day.

    3. reinstate 6-9 hours for starting point make Banfield and O’ brien starting point co-anchors. Both names are better together than apart.

    4. Cnn promotes the brands. No promotion shows they have no interest in it.

    5. throw out starting points formula it’s a poor morning joe copy.

  20. Most of your points are impractical for CNN and will never be contemplated. I am surprised by the lack of promotion however.

  21. ^ you may be right about capricex’s suggestions being impractical but something needs to be done and not just about Starting Point. CNN has a problem with viewership in general and they keep sinking behind MSNBC. CNN has some good talent but they need to cull the herd and hire some fresh faces that people trust.

    I totally agree with promoting the CNN brand instead of promoting personalities – if CNN wants to be known for news, that’s what they need to do.

    I think this is a good idea:
    “All 3 anchors should be moved to different positions during the day, with O’Brien and Banfield in early prime. Banfield Would be good in a Sensational hour news show.
    Drop Burnett.”
    I wouldn’t reuse the OutFront name or brand, just drop it and forget it ever happened.

  22. […] The next step in the buzz chain would be for media writers to notice and start talking about it. That hasn’t happened yet to any significant extent. Is it an absolute requirement? No, but it certainly doesn’t hurt any. O’Brien’s interviewing is the kind of selling point CNN can try to build a real brand around Starting Point provided it’s allowed the chance to do so and not thrown off plan and off message by air sucking mega headlines about 10 year ratings lows. That kind of stuff is cable news Kryptonite, a media writer distractor, and a network momentum disruptor. But I’ve discussed this issue in detail enough already. […]

  23. […] CNN and it was revealed that its new morning shows had hit greater than 10 year lows, I called it a crisis moment. In ratings terms it’s not a necessarily disaster but in PR terms it is an unmitigated disaster. […]

  24. […] Point” averaged just 234,000 viewers in 2012, and cable-news watchers have been sounding the alarm about CNN’s a.m. performance for some time. The numbers are bad enough that you could say, loosely, that no one watches the network’s […]

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