Casey Anthony Wins Again: The Triumph of Sleaze

Not only was Casey Anthony found not guilty, but she also won more total day viewers than FoxNews, MSNBC and CNN. She also won in all the demographic categories in total day and primetime. Fox won in primetime total viewers, but only by 100,000. It was the worst week FoxNews has had in about ten years, and all because of the exceedingly sleazy competition from Headline News.

Headline News, for the first time in its history, was in the top ten of all cable networks in both total day (seventh), and primetime (sixth). Fox finished fifth in primetime and ninth in total day. I'm of an age when I thought that very few things could surprise me, but I am astounded by the number of viewers Headline News attracted with the Casey Anthony story. Everything I wrote last week has now been printed bold and underlined, "never overestimate the intelligence of the American public", and "give them what they want, and they'll watch it".

The above confirms that what cable news viewers want most is sleaze. All the other networks lost viewers. CNN was down about 40% from May levels in primetime, FoxNews was down 15% and MSNBC, 20%, thus establishing that Headline News was not only gathering new viewers, but also drawing away "regular news" viewers.

In the demographic that the cable news networks sell to advertisers (25-54s), Headline News had almost four times as large an audience last week than it had in May. CNN lost about 40% of its viewers, MSNBC lost 45% of its viewers, and Fox dropped 20%. If that reflects advertising buying, Headline News made four times as much money as it did in May, and the other networks all lost a lot of primetime revenue. Total day was no better, but there's no need to throw any more numbers at you.

But Casey Anthony may have been a one trick pony. In 1995, CNN itself became the OJ Simpson network. It went wall-to-wall with the OJ trial -- its ratings soared. CNN had been averaging a point seven rating, during the trial the ratings soared to a full point -- sometimes even higher. But after the trial, CNN ratings declined sharply -- down to point fives and even point fours. Headline News may suffer the same fate now. People who were interested only in the coverage of Casey will certainly drop away, and other viewers who may have been turned off by the coverage may not come back. We'll find that out next month, and frankly, I'm hoping it happens. I'm hoping it'll be a long time before another story is sleazy enough to turn tragedy into triumph.