Crazy Week of News Has Impact on Ratings
Multiple networks broke into covering the surreal chaotic scene — the first time the U.S. Capitol was under siege since 1812. CNN was tops, peaking at 10.17 million viewers in the 4-5 p.m. ET hour; the 5-6 p.m. ET drew 10.05 million.
The kickoff to the year of 2021 was quite a rollercoaster-like week for the United States.
On Jan. 3, there was the release of audio of Donald Trump pressuring the Georgia Secretary of State to help “find” him more votes from the presidential election. Two days later, Georgia was also in focus as it was Election Day there for the runoff races between four candidates vying for two senate seats — at stake was either a continued Republican majority in the U.S. senate or a theoretic Democratic control in a 50-50 split scenario with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. The prime time viewer winner on cable that evening was MSNBC. From 8-11 p.m. ET on Jan. 5, MSNBC’s election coverage with Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid and Steve Kornacki drew 4.655 million viewers. Fox News was close behind with 4.35 million; CNN averaged 3.9 million. MSNBC nearly topped CBS (4.68 million) but it, along with its cable news competition, each outdrew the other broadcast networks NBC (3.6 million), ABC (3.4 million) and Fox (1.79 million).
CNN was the No. 1 prime time network (also over broadcast TV) in adults 25-54 with approximately 1.39 million viewers within that key demographic. MSNBC was runner-up (~1.15 million); Fox News (~870,000) trailed behind.
As developments of the two tight races were unfolding in the overnight (and which ultimately led to victories for Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff), MSNBC remained the most-watched cable news outlet. Here’s the breakdown:
- MSNBC: 4.619 million viewers
- CNN: 3.452 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 3.308 million viewers
- MSNBC: 3.822 million viewers
- CNN: 3.144 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 1.835 million viewers
- MSNBC: 2.514 million viewers
- CNN: 2.301 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 1.084 million viewers
- MSNBC: 1.837 million viewers
- CNN: 1.830 million viewers
- Fox News Channel: 0.756 million viewers
Then, the infamous date of Jan. 6, 2021 when the Electoral College vote was to be officially declared by elected government leaders at the U.S. Capitol. While that would eventually occur later that night, the afternoon was marred by the swarm of Trump-supporting invaders of the Capitol building to disrupt the process. Multiple networks broke into covering the surreal chaotic scene — the first time the U.S. Capitol was under siege since 1814 during the War of 1812. CNN was tops, peaking at 10.17 million viewers in the 4-5 p.m. ET hour; the 5-6 p.m. ET drew 10.05 million. Those same two hours were also highly watched for MSNBC (4-6 p.m. ET: 6.41 million) and Fox News (4-5 p.m. ET: 6.53 million; 5-6 p.m. ET: 6.18 million).
Insurrection coverage on the Trump-friendly outlet Newsmax TV posted the following viewer figures: 0.80 million (noon-2 p.m.), 1.02 million (2-5 p.m.), 1.22 million (5-6 p.m.), 1.045 million (6-7 p.m.), 1.03 million (for “Greg Kelly Reports” 7-8 p.m.) and 0.77 million (for “Stinchfield” 8-9:30 p.m.).
Advancing to prime time, as Washington D.C. implemented a curfew, tougher security via the National Guard arrived at the Capitol, and debates among senators and congressmembers were able to resume, the Big-3 broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) preempted its regular schedule to report on the events of the day. Yet, cable news continued to be a more popular destination for up-to-date information; two of those outlets led all of television in viewership. From 8-11 p.m. Eastern, CNN averaged 8.42 million viewers and MSNBC 7.64 million. MSNBC’s broadcast parent NBC posted 5.82 million, followed by Fox News (4.7 million) and ABC (3.84 million). CBS’s special report coverage from 9-11 p.m. ET averaged 2.23 million.
CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith”, which had aired from 7-9 p.m., drew 345,000 viewers; approximately 100,000 more than its nightly average from recent weeks.
The calendar turned from 2020 to 2021 last week, and the three cable news channels still remained popular but it was ESPN, which featured the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day, that led all cable networks in all key figures (total viewers and demos). In total day (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) data for the week ending Jan. 3, 2021, according to Nielsen Media Research, CNN was runner-up to ESPN in total viewers (1.25 million, to ESPN’s 2.43 million) but topped cable news. The annual New Year’s Eve Live coverage from Times Square on CNN with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen reached an all-time high (since its 2001 initial special) with 3.364 million viewers — a near-doubling of its year-ago audience (1.727 million from Dec. 31, 2019; +95 percent year over year).
The third and fourth place spots on all of cable were Fox News Channel (1.13 million) and MSNBC (1.015 million).
In full, here are the cable news prime time averages for Dec. 28, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021:
Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.293 million viewers; 180,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.252 million viewers; 297,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.282 million viewers; 155,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Dec. 28-Jan. 2 @ 8-11 p.m.; Jan. 3 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.771 million viewers; 249,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.594 million viewers; 406,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.430 million viewers; 218,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs in total viewers:
1. New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 3.364 million viewers
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.830 million viewers
3. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 12/30/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.794 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 12/28/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.768 million viewers
5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 12/28/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.681 million viewers
6. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 12/29/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.629 million viewers
7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/30/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.598 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 12/30/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.536 million viewers
9. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.526 million viewers
10. New Year’s Eve Live with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 2.522 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and Fox News program and its associated rank) among adults 25-54:
1. New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 1.205 million adults 25-54
2. New Year’s Eve Live with Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon (CNN, Thu. 12/31/2020 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 0.953 million adults 25-54
3. Situation Room (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.531 million adults 25-54
4. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.515 million adults 25-54
5. Situation Room (CNN, Tue. 12/29/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.497 million adults 25-54
6. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.488 million adults 25-54
7. Situation Room (CNN, Mon. 12/28/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.486 million adults 25-54
8. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.464 million adults 25-54
9. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sun. 1/3/2021 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.463 million adults 25-54
10. Situation Room (CNN, Tue. 12/29/2020 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.456 million adults 25-54
17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 12/29/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.427 million adults 25-54
30. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/29/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.394 million adults 25-54
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.
6 Tips For Dealing With Publicists
I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
Especially for morning drive shows using the news wheel, ‘newsmaker’ guests are a part of the format. Beware of publicists that may be stealing bread from your station’s mouth. I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
No Local Pitches From Publicists
We are often told to keep it local. I generally agree with that statement, but working with a local publicist is a bad idea. Publicists usually get paid for any appearance. If this is a local business, you are stealing money from your station’s bottom line. Why isn’t the guest purchasing advertising from the station?
Depending on the market, the publicist may be making enough money that would be better used on a spot campaign on your station. I programmed a station with the news wheel with “newsmaker” guests every half hour. A local doctor was talking about the ‘innovative’ procedure his office provides. Post-show, I called in the morning show host and producer. I asked if they stole from the company. These guys said, “No!”
Then I explained that the doctor was just given 12 minutes of free advertising. The publicist got paid and the station got nothing. I also explained that that the host could have made money with endorsement spots. Now, that was never going to happen. I suggested that the host speak with sales about this amazing doctor. Of course, the doctor never met with the account executive. Lesson learned.
You Are Enriching Them, So Make Them Work for Their Dough
You booked a guest from a publicist. Make them work for the money. Have them provide all the information that you need. A picture of the guest for social media. The interview is on your time, not theirs.
I had a publicist ask if I could pre-record their amazing guest at 4 in the afternoon, I said no. I only do guests live except in extraordinary circumstances. Occasionally, I’ll do a hit with one of the weekend syndicated hosts on my station. He does a local show at the same time that I am on the air. So, that is fine. I would pre-record Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but almost no one else.
It’s Your Show. Ask the Guest Your Questions.
If a publicist provides a list of suggested talking points, shred them. Do not do the interview for the guest or publicist, do it for your audience. Ask the questions that are focused on your listener.
The guest is getting free air time and the publicist is getting paid. If the guest and booker don’t like that? Who cares. I don’t do my show for them. I also never tell any guest about the questions that I could be asking. If there is a news story that is related to the guest, I am asking about that first. Being topical is your job.
The Emails Often Look Like the Endcap at Walmart
Here is what I mean: Publicist offers someone very cool. You contact them. The guest that the publicist offered is unavailable or ‘already’ booked at the time you need. So, the publicist highlights other potential guests that are not that appealing.
Just like the endcap at Walmart, the email looks appealing. Unfortunately, it is only to get you to open the email.
I received an email offering a really top guest that would be perfect for my show. I called the publicist and she told me that her guest was open at my time. Awesome. I thought that I had a good score.
I booked 3 days ahead and the publicist let me know that the guest was unavailable the afternoon before the interview. Since the guest was never confirmed, I didn’t promote it.
When to Cut Ties With a Publicist
If the guest slinger only provides people who are only wanting to sell stuff on your show? Move along. Obviously, all guests need to plug their stuff. We all know this.
About a decade ago, New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was booked on The Dan Patrick Show. Part of the reason was he was going to plug Qualcomm. Well, Matt Harvey didn’t want to speak about anything but Qualcomm. It was a sales pitch and nothing else.
Publicists should have their clients prepped so that they are booked to talk about their expertise and will get a chance to plug their book or service.
How to Get Guests Off the Talking Points
In the ’90s, I produced The Barbara Carlson Show in Minneapolis. The great actor Karl Malden was booked to promote the Oscars.
Let’s say that Karl was not in the mood to discuss anything but the Oscars. So, Barbara wasn’t going to let Karl get away with it. She buttered him up, telling Karl that he had a sexy nose. Then Barbara asked Karl if he had snorted cocaine at those amazing Hollywood Parties.
80-year-old Karl lost his cool. She got him off the talking points. It became an interesting interview.
The publicist was really mad about this. It was really good radio. It’s always about good radio and not pleasing some guest that is a one-time hit. Please the audience. Make memorable radio.
We all use publicists. Realize that you are their meal ticket. I am always surprised that I don’t at least get a holiday card from the publicists that I use on a regular basis. Don’t be naïve about these people. Hey, we all must make a living. They are a tool for you to use as you please.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.
Samantha Rivera Is What Every Live Reporter Should Strive For
Moxie. It’s a great word and it is not used enough these days. Maybe it’s not applied enough because not enough people have it, or not enough people show it. Samantha Rivera has moxie.
That is no patronizing remark, it is an unquestionable fact if you ask me, so do not even go there.
Samantha Rivera is a sports reporter for CBS News Miami, but she hit the jackpot in Las Vegas during a live shot at game two of the Stanley Cup Final.
What did she do you ask?
She did her job, with a flourish, strength, and without even breaking eye contact with the camera.
It’s the age-old story; a jersey-wearing nitwit sees the camera, the mic flag, and decides to bust in on the live shot.
Samantha Rivera’s live shot. And as we all have seen by now; she was not having it.
I am no play-by-play champion, so I recommend watching for yourself if you haven’t already. In this instance, watching an act of capability and composure takes extraordinarily little time.
Look, I still like sports and I still understand the motivation some fans have when they’re at a game or at a bar or even on the street outside the arena.
And as one of the inaugural season ticket holders for the Florida Panthers, a former South Floridian, and a guy who shares a first and a last name with the Panthers GM (I came along first, I checked), it’s not like I wasn’t keeping tabs on the game anyway.
But back to the fans, let us remember something: fan is short for fanatic or fanaticism.
Sports fans are much like those with strong political leanings, although in my observations sports fans usually have a little bit more on the ball and they possess a greater knowledge of the facts involved.
But we need to remember something else as well: reporter is short for somebody with a job, a job that has to get done, often in a challenging environment.
When the journalist meets the village idiot, for all our sakes the journalist has to win.
And Samantha Rivera won. And it was a victory we all should appreciate. News and sports coverage remained that one degree smarter as a result of a professional doing her job and doing it well.
We were spared a black eye, a dose of ridicule, and a round of catcalls because Samantha Rivera stepped up to the plate and went to bat for herself and for all of us really, and she did it at hockey game.
A great moment has gone viral, everybody is covering it and CBS Miami has an exceptional story to tell. They even got to interview their own reporter, a reporter who was the story.
This is one of those times when a reporter making the news is a good thing.
No idiot is calling a colleague a reprehensible name and getting fired here.
A professional’s personal life is not sending their career over a cliff in this scenario.
This time the reporter is seen pushing back against wrongful interference and emerging victoriously.
No big fight, no injuries, no penalty box.
Of course, there is at least one mutant out there still looking for high-fives for the half-second of screen time his shoulder and a third of his face got.
A live shot is not a “free swim” for the moronic, that lesson was reinforced in of all places, Las Vegas.
Live coverage is fun because it’s challenging but what I think should be called to attention here is how well Samantha Rivera handled things and did the job all while keeping a “take no shit” attitude.
I believe it’s a good representative look for a reporter.
That’s the way it’s done, the way it needs to be done and all the praise this pro among pros is getting is just.
Samantha Rivera now has the only shot she will ever need for her reporter reel.
So, in this case, it was a good thing that what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.