MSNBC Clarifies Ad Boasting Win Over CNN

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MSNBC clarified one of its promotional spots, where it claimed to have “beaten” rival CNN in primetime, after being contacted by Nielsen Media Research, officials said Tuesday.

MSNBC, part of NBC Universal, agreed to add language to the TV commercial explaining how it was defining “primetime,” according to MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines.

“We were not asked to pull it [the spot], just to clarify it,” Gaines said. “Nielsen has seen the new promo and all is good.”

Nielsen spokesman Anne Elliot confirmed that the ratings company had told MSNBC to modify it promo.

“We told them they needed to clarify what their definition of primetime was, and they agreed to make that modification,” Elliot said. “We told them they needed to be clearer about what they were saying.”

CNN accused MSNBC of “recasting” primetime, and trying to boost its ratings by rerunning NBC’s To Catch a Predatorin late night. MSNBC defended its programming strategy, saying that it’s working.

The TV spot in question asserted that “MSNBC Beat CNN,” adding that MSNBC had more primetime viewers ages 25 to 54. The spot also cited headlines from several trade publications, including Variety, a sister publication of Multichannel News. But the original spot did not explain that MSNBC was “beating” CNN in the period that it defines as primetime, which is far different than Nielsen’s definition.

In claiming its victory over CNN, MSNBC was defining primetime as 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., which is “sales” primetime, or how MSNBC defines the period when it sells ads. That’s significantly different than Nielsen’s definition of primetime, which is 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The clarification in the promotional spot now uses the “appropriate language” to specify that MSNBC is defining primetime as 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to Gaines.

CNN had cried foul over the ads, charging that MSNBC was inflating its numbers by packing its lineup, especially from 11 p.m. or so to 2 a.m., with re-airings of NBC’s To Catch a Predator and Predator Raw.

“It’s easy to get ratings if you go down market and run tabloid docs, ad nauseam, like MSNBC is doing with 40 hours of To Catch a Predator over the weekend,” CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinsons said. “That’s not how we program CNN. We run real reporting by CNN journalists and we get millions more viewers than either Fox News or MSNBC watching us every month.”

For example, about half of MSNBC’s 50 top-rated telecasts in July were re-airings of To Catch a Predator and Predator Raw. What might be considered a signature MSNBC show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, constituted only seven slots on that Top 50 list, all nearthe bottom. 

MSNBC said its strategy of using documentaries is working.

“A year ago we implemented our new strategy of complementing our live programming with documentary programming in the late evening,” Gaines said.  “July’s numbers prove that this strategy is the correct one. Keith Olbermann continues to dominate CNN at 8 p.m. and our documentary programs have also been doing well and we couldn't be more pleased.”

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