Viewer interest in the Iraq war may diminish following Baghdad's fall last week, but that's not stopping some of the all-news networks from bulking up their resources there.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the news networks report that more advertisers have returned and inventory loads are expanding.
Cable News Network sent 40 additional reporters, producers and technical staff into Baghdad and other parts of Iraq late last week, including reporters Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi and Christiane Amanpour. Iraqi officials had expelled Robertson, Brahimi and producer Ingrid Formanek from Baghdad, but with the fall of the regime, CNN officials said reporters are no longer constrained from reporting where they choose.
"We have free access," CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. "This is the first time that our journalists are reporting from Baghdad without the presence of an Iraqi government official minding them."
Several reporters from CNN and other news networks who were embedded with U.S. military divisions are also leaving their positions to travel to Baghdad. Robinson said CNN staffers Martin Savidge, Jason Bellini and Walter Rodgers left their embed positions to cover events in Baghdad last week, after U.S. tanks rolled into the city.
While journalists may no longer have Iraqi officials trailing their every move, Iraq remains a dangerous place, with a war raging and no police force in place to protect the population. Robinson said former British special forces soldiers who work for the security firm AKE Ltd. accompany each CNN team.
CNN chose not to reveal some of the threats that its staffers had received from Iraqis until the regime fell last week. On Thursday night, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan told anchor Aaron Brown in an interview that in December, Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, who accused CNN of being an arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, threatened to assassinate its staffers if the network followed through on plans to send reporters to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
Some MSNBC reporters embedded with military divisions, including Bob Arnot and Chip Reid, also left their positions to cover events in Baghdad last week. MSNBC vice president of live news gathering Mark Effron said NBC News is also sending additional staffers into Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, but he wouldn't detail those plans.
Through last Wednesday, Fox News Channel remained the top all-news network in terms of ratings, averaging a 3.2 total-day rating and 3.3 million viewers since the war began on March 19. CNN is second, averaging a 2.5 rating and 2.7 million viewers, followed by MSNBC's 1.5 rating and 1.4 million viewers.
While news ratings may continue to fall as war nears its final stages, MSNBC's Effron said he hopes the network's coverage will drive long-term ratings increases.
"Will cable news ratings leave some of their atmospheric heights and return to more normal? I'm sure they will. The key for MSNBC is for that normal to be higher than it was before the war, and that's through good programming," Effron said.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of action on Madison Avenue. MSNBC vice president of ad sales Seth Winter said "about a dozen clients came in after the fall of Baghdad."
As such, about 90 percent of MSNBC's advertisers will have returned, effective this week.
Still, Winter cautioned that "news events will dictate" how many commercial minutes MSNBC will run in any given hour. Last week, that ratio was about 50 percent of MSNBC's usual load.
Fox News Channel Eastern sales vice president Kevin Brown said that "we got a bunch of calls [Thursday from clients] willing to go back on." At that juncture, Fox News's commercial load stood at nine minutes an hour — "up from what we were doing" earlier, but still below its pre-war 14 minutes.
CNN executive vice president of sales and marketing Greg D'Alba, said 96 percent to 97 percent of the network's advertisers were or would be back by Monday (April 14).
CNN's primetime commercial load now stands at 70 percent to 80 percent of capacity, and the network should "probably be at full capacity late [this] week," he added.
The numerous ads bumped during CNN's first two weeks of war coverage will be "re-expressed," with those make-goods slated to run in the next two or three weeks, D'Alba estimated.