Accuracy in Media

CNN, which has struggled for years to field a competitive program in the 8 p.m. prime time slot, has managed to dig itself a deeper hole with the recent move of Anderson Cooper 360 into the coveted slot.

The initial ratings for Cooper’s program were actually worse than that of  the Eliot Spitzer ratings-laggard, In the Arena, which was canceled last month.

The New York Times reports that according to Nielsen data, Anderson Cooper 360 averaged 502,000 viewers in his first week in the new time slot, compared to 544,000 that Spitzer averaged in the most recent quarter, April through June.

In the all important A25-54 demo, Cooper averaged 162,000 viewers versus 168,000 that Spitzer averaged in the previous quarter.

August is probably not the best time to debut a news program, even one which has performed solidly in another time slot, but it’s not as if all the news just died off. There has been plenty of attention paid to the GOP debate and straw poll and the ongoing argument over the debt ceiling fight during a period that would normally have been a lot quieter.

Even though the numbers were down, CNN managed to put their own spin on the results, telling the the Times that a better comparison would be for the previous four weeks when several temporary anchors filled in averaging 149,000 viewers in the A25-54 demo.

They then boasted that Cooper’s ratings were stronger than the show it replaced during the previous four weeks and that his reporting distinguishes his show from the competition.

Maybe so, but they were still below the actual show he replaced and they were off significantly from what Cooper attracted in his old 10 p.m. slot by some 70,000 viewers in the demo, which CNN conveniently ignored.

CNN is hoping that Cooper can revive its fortunes in the 8 p.m. hour where it often trails its sister network, HLN, in the ratings. But moving a successful program into an even more competitive time slot may not give them the results they were looking for, while weakening their position in the old time slot.

Rather than just reshuffling the deck chairs, what CNN needs is a makeover in both programming and identity. As long as CNN boss Ken Jautz is satisfied with playing the political middle and programming shows that fit that target, they will be relegated to the bottom rung of the cable news ratings race.

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