Ratings: The Summer of '12 -- a Distorted Season

Once every four years, the Summer Olympics distort the news ratings. This year, it was worse than usual because MSNBC, programmed by NBC, carried a lot of Olympic events, sometimes in primetime, sometimes in daytime. As a result, its ratings were higher than if had carried its usual news programs. Therefore, MSNBC got higher ratings than usual, while the three other news networks all suffered a loss of viewers who had turned to the Olympics.

Nevertheless, the Olympics interfered with only two weeks of the summer season, so some notice should be taken of the numbers. CNN and Headline News suffered the worst, they were down 31% and 41% respectively in primetime and down 28% and 56% in total day--disastrous numbers, even considering the Olympics. Of course, there was no Casey Anthony this summer, so Nancy Grace and Headline News were caught in a double whammy.

MSNBC's numbers were relatively flat. The boost they got from some Olympic viewers they lost when some of their own regular viewers went over to NBC itself to watch other Olympic events. FoxNews' total viewing was also flat, down 3% in primetime, up 2% in total day. It did not do so well in the demographics, down more than 10% in adults 25-54, and 13% in adults 18-49s in total day. In primetime, FoxNews was harder hit, down 22% in 18-49s and 23% in 25-54s. None of this seems catastrophic.

For CNN and Headline News, on the other hand, the numbers were dismal. Each of them averaged fewer than 80,000 viewers 18-49 over the total day and fewer than 100,000 25-54 viewers. I cannot remember any time in the past twenty years that CNN has done that badly in those categories. I know CNN is in a period of transition, with leaders leaving and new ones yet to be selected, but someone should be working harder just to keep this ship on a steady course.

Due to the Olympic distortion of viewing numbers, I will not make any election predictions this month.