Tag Archives: cable news

“Fox & Friends”

By Christopher B. Daly 

In reading today’s Times story about the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends,” I found it difficult to decide which of these facts was more startling:

____ Gretchen Carlson graduated from Stanford University, with honors no less!

____ Gretchen Carlson plays classical violin.

____ Gretchen Carlson was Miss America in 1989.

It has been reported. Now you decide.

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Filed under broadcasting, Glenn Beck, Journalism

CNN: the “E.R.” of TV news?

By Chris Daly

Insightful piece today by Brian Stelter in the Times. It raises the question: Is CNN like the emergency room of a hospital that cannot fill its inpatient beds? CNN is very busy during crises, but it becomes a lonely place during periods of routine news. That certainly rings true in my experience: on an election night, I’m a visitor of CNN for sure. If I hear a snatch of something startling on the radio and want to hear/see more right away, I will snap on CNN. If all hell is breaking loose somewhere, it’s usually my top choice (certainly far ahead of cable-news leader Fox News, which has so few correspondents who can jump on breaking news).

Fundamentally, this problem has been with CNN almost from the get-go. Here’s an excerpt from my book, Covering America, about the founding of CNN and its basic business problem. 

. . .By approaching cable news this way, [CNN founder Ted] Turner was coincidentally creating a new business model for TV journalism. Unlike the networks, CNN did not plan to build a huge entertainment division that would have to create or bid for programs. And unlike public television, CNN was not dependent on public subsidies, foundation grants, or donations from the audience. Instead, Turner was adapting an older business model from newspapers. In the CNN approach, TV news would be paid for through a “dual revenue stream.” Just as newspapers made money from two sources—advertising and subscriptions—so would CNN. The company would sell ads, and it would also have a steady stream of revenue coming in from the cable operators, who had to pay CNN a few pennies per customer per month, reflecting CNN’s share of the monthly cable TV bills that Americans were getting used to paying. With low costs and two fairly reliable streams of revenue, news on cable just might work.

Ready or not, on June 1, 1980, CNN made its debut. There were the inevitable mishaps (the cleaning lady who walked across the set behind the anchor while the cameras were rolling), but the impressive thing was that it worked. CNN started covering the news that day and has done so continuously ever since—days, nights, weekends, holidays. Only the AP could make a similar claim, (though it supplies news to the industry rather than directly to the public). Soon, Turner was showing the skeptics that it was in fact possible to put news on television round the clock. Yes, it was sometimes raggedy. And yes, there was a lot still to accomplish—including hammering out reciprocal video-sharing agreements with affiliates, hiring more and more staff, opening bureaus around the world. But it worked.

By the end of 1981, CNN was getting established. It was reaching 10 million households and was clawing its way to journalistic parity with the network news divisions.18 One key issue was what is known as “pool coverage.” This occurs in many settings when there is not enough room to accommodate all the media people who wish to cover some location or event, such as a courtroom, a presidential appearance with limited access, or the like. In those cases, the answer is a pool, in which all the journalists in each medium agree to cooperate. Typically, each medium gets to put one representative at the scene. In return for that access, the chosen journalist agrees to share the results with all the other members of the pool in the same medium. In addition, each member of the pool agrees to take a turn in providing the feed. This arrangement assumes, of course, that anyone participating in the pool will produce work of high enough quality to satisfy all the others. CNN was originally scorned by the networks, which refused to let CNN crews participate in the White House television pool coverage. It took a lawsuit (which cost Turner another $1 million), but eventually CNN was allowed in.

One of the early tests of CNN as a news organization came on March 30, 1981. President Reagan gave a speech that day to the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton. CNN covered the speech live and then, when it was over, switched to some filler material, about sewing in China. While that was airing, the police scanner in CNN’s Washington bureau barked: “Shots fired . . . Hilton Hotel.” Almost immediately, the veteran newscaster Bernard Shaw sat down in the anchor chair in the CNN Washington bureau and began reporting that shots had been fired at the president—a full four minutes before the networks. Shaw stayed in the chair for more than seven hours, and, with help from Dan Schorr, proved that the fledgling news service could keep up with the established networks. Through the evening, CNN kept breaking in with new details: a picture of the shooter’s home, a report on his motive, pictures of the vice president in Texas heading to Washington. According to one account of that day: “Such details were hitting the air in no particular sequence. CNN’s viewers got the story in the jumbled way a journalist receives fragments of information before transforming them into an orderly, polished report. The ‘process’ of gathering news determined the form in which that news was delivered.” Before CNN, viewers had received their news in measured doses at fixed times; now they were drinking straight from the fire hose.

For years, CNN cost more to produce than it brought in through the combined revenues of cable subscriptions and advertising. The network was burning through Ted Turner’s personal wealth at an unsustainable rate. The early years were a desperate race to get CNN included in enough viewers’ basic cable packages to pay for itself. Most of the costs of gathering and disseminating the news by cable were fixed; the great variable was the size of the audience. Beginning in 1978, from the pre-launch investments in people, property, satellite time, and equipment, CNN lost an estimated $77 million through 1984.20 But then in 1985, CNN began posting profits: $20 million that year and more in the coming years. In the grow-or-die spirit of modern capitalism, Turner soon started thinking about acquiring other businesses. At the same time, a profitable CNN was looking more attractive to other investors, who might try to take it over. By the end of the decade, CNN was earning almost $90 million a year and had an estimated value of $1.5 billion. At the decade mark, on June 1, 1990, it could be seen in 53 million homes in the United States and in eighty-four countries worldwide. CNN had nine U.S. bureaus and another eighteen overseas, with a global total of some 1,800 employees. CNN had arrived. . .

 

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Filed under broadcasting, CNN, Fox News, Journalism, journalism history, media

Whither MSNBC?

New York Times television reporter Bill Carter has a good piece today on MSNBC — not least because he quoted me.

[Fun fact: my quote includes an odd mistake. I sent him my quote by email. I meant to write that the size of the audience is “capped” by the size of the universe of people who agree with you. But I must have made a typo, and my computer auto-corrected it to “cajoled” — which is actually nonsensical in that context. Odder still: no one caught it. Well, at least, they spelled my name right. . . ]

MSNBC Is Close to Falling to Third Place in Cable News Ratings

By 
Published: September 26, 2011

How badly has MSNBC been hurt by the loss of Keith Olbermann? Enough, apparently, to be on the verge of falling back into third place among the cable news networks.

Justin Stephens/Current TV, via Associated Press

The time slot held by Keith Olbermann lost viewers.

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Anderson Cooper’s move seems to be working for CNN.

The ratings results for the month of September show that CNN, long relegated to third place in the prime-time cable news competition, is edging its way back up, while MSNBC is moving in the other direction.

For the month, CNN averaged 257,000 viewers in prime time in the category that counts most to the networks — viewers between the ages of 25 and 54 — because that is where the advertising money goes for news programming. MSNBC was just barely ahead with 269,000 viewers. (Neither approached the leader, Fox News, with 526,000).

Both CNN and MSNBC had one especially strong night because of the Republican presidential debates. With those excluded, however, CNN beat MSNBC, 219,000 to 207,000. A year ago, when Mr. Olbermann still occupied the 8 p.m. hour, MSNBC edged CNN by 83,000 viewers, with 256,000 viewers for MSNBC to 173,000 for CNN.

The change in the September ratings was most noticeable at 8 p.m., where CNN has moved its best-known host, Anderson Cooper. The network’s performance during that hour has improved by 38 percent over last year, growing to 215,000 viewers from 156,000.

On MSNBC, meanwhile, Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 100,000 viewers from the numbers Mr. Olbermann posted last September, with 185,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 age group, a drop of 35 percent. (Bill O’Reilly on Fox, as always, dwarfs his competitors with about three times as many viewers, 611,000.)

More ominously, the falloff for Mr. O’Donnell seems to be affecting MSNBC’s biggest name, Rachel Maddow. Her audience dropped 15 percent this year, to 245,000 from 289,000. She still beats Piers Morgan on CNN in the 9 p.m. hour, but his show has improved 18 percent over Larry King’s ratings last year, with 193,000 viewers to Mr. King’s 164,000.

MSNBC executives endured a contentious parting with Mr. Olbermann last January. Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, had a succinct answer to the question of whether the network is feeling the impact of Mr. Olbermann’s departure: “No.”

He added, “I’m confident that we will increase our ratings as politics become the dominant story over the next year.”

Mr. Olbermann is now on the air head-to-head against Mr. O’Donnell. The channel he appears on, Current TV, is not in the league of either CNN or MSNBC in terms of national profile, and his audience totals do not approach any of the other 8 p.m. competitors.

Mr. Olbermann averaged just over 50,000 viewers in the 25-to-54 measure in September, or less than 20 percent of what he attracted on MSNBC. Still, many of those 50,000 may have previously been viewers of MSNBC — and Mr. O’Donnell was 30,000 viewers behind Mr. Cooper in September.

Some industry analysts said the loss of viewers for MSNBC may have to do with strategic changes the network made in recent years.

“MSNBC may be rediscovering the downside of partisan news,” said Chris Daly, a professor of journalism at Boston University. “That is, the size of your audience is essentially cajoled by the size of the electorate that already agrees with you.”

Mr. Cooper is being compared at 8 p.m. against what was hardly a powerhouse CNN entry last year — “Rick’s List,” which featured Rick Sanchez, who was subsequently fired. But Mr. Cooper’s move to 8, which was questioned by some critics, seems to be paying off for CNN. He has made the network much more competitive in that time slot while not losing any momentum for the second show he hosts at 10 p.m.

Ken Jautz, the head of CNN’s domestic news operation, said the network had “been making changes to several hours of our programming in order to grow CNN’s audience during both breaking news and nonbreaking news periods. The fact that our prime-time audience increased this month by 49 percent is certainly gratifying.”

The replay of “Anderson Cooper 360,” which includes news updates but mostly material from the 8 p.m. show, remains CNN’s strongest hour, with 274,000 viewers, well ahead of “The Ed Show” on MSNBC with 200,000 (though both also are well behind Greta Van Susteren on Fox, who had 415,000.)


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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, media, MSNBC, New York Times, Olbermann, Politics