Cable Ratings Blast Upward

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

Cable-news networks saw their ratings soar like missiles as
they juggled coverage of two historic news events last week: the bombing of Baghdad, Iraq,
and the impeachment proceedings looming against President Clinton.

Cable News Network, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, C-SPAN
2, America's Voice and CNBC all televised live coverage of, or programming related
to, the bombing of Iraq -- an attack that started last Wednesday, continuing through the
end of the week.

On the first day of the bombings, CNN scored its
highest-rated day this year -- a 2.2 rating, or 1.7 million households -- according to
Nielsen Media Research data supplied by CNN.

That number was strong, although not nearly as impressive
as CNN's ratings during the first day of the Gulf War nearly eight years ago. On that
day -- Jan. 16, 1991 -- CNN posted a 7.3 rating, which translated to 4.1 million homes.

Last Friday, CNN and its all-news cable brethren did live
coverage and updates of both the air strikes against Iraq and the House of
Representatives' impeachment debate and votes.

MSNBC -- which was among those juggling "Operation
Desert Fox" coverage with that of the House's talks about impeaching Clinton
last week -- also saw a boost in its viewership.

On Dec. 16, MSNBC did a total-day rating of 0.7, or 300,000
households, which is more than double the 0.3 rating, or 133,000 households, that the
network averaged in November. This marked the network's seventh-highest total-day
rating ever.

From 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Dec. 16, MSNBC did a 1.4 rating --
nearly triple the 0.5 that it averaged in November for that time slot.

But MSNBC general manager Erik Sorenson said he was more
concerned about the tune-in viewership that his network was getting during the Iraqi
crisis.

"This kind of story, for us, is an image-maker,"
he said. "It's a once-in-a-decade story. It's not about the actual numbers
that we get."

On the first night of the bombing, MSNBC aired live
coverage from Baghdad, simulcasting NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and the network's three
correspondents in Iraq. Sorenson said if the House decided to go ahead with its
impeachment vote this past weekend, MSNBC was likely to use a split screen to air both any
ongoing bombing coverage and the vote.

That would be similar to what FNC did last Thursday, when
it used a split screen to air the House's discussions about whether to go ahead with
an impeachment vote against Clinton and coverage of the continuing air attack on Iraq.

Last Wednesday night, FNC's Iraq coverage garnered a
1.3 rating, or 480,000 households -- a 212 percent increase compared with that time
slot's typical 0.4 rating, or 154,000 households.

CNN's coverage was spearheaded by Christiane Amanpour,
with no trace of the correspondents who led the network's Gulf War coverage eight
years ago. Peter Arnett has been out of sight since his involvement in the "Operation
Tailwind" fiasco this year, and John Holliman died in a Sept. 12 car accident. CNN
has three live cameras in Baghdad, two satellite links and a crew of 17 people.

Even CNBC broke into its business coverage last week with
cuts of the bombing. Last Wednesday night, CNBC pre-empted its Business Center show
at 7 p.m. with an hour-long Upfront Tonight special on the Iraqi crisis featuring
Geraldo Rivera, CNBC spokesman George Jamison said.

The Rivera special did a 0.5 rating, or 351,000 households
-- an 81 percent increase from the 0.3 rating that the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. time slot normally
does. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the first night of the bombings, CNBC did a 0.7 rating, or
471,000 households -- a 69 percent jump over the 0.4 rating that it averaged in November
for that time period -- Jamison said.

Related