Sunday, January 30, 2011
It looks like MSNBC is paying a big price in the ratings department after summarily firing Keith Olbermann.
MSNBC rushed to replace “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” with the “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 8PM. O’Donnell, the bright, former U.S. Senate aide and “West Wing” TV producer got his own MSNBC show late last year.
O’Donnell’s new Monday show, when weekend media coverage of Olbermann’s firing and, coupled by the fact that the show was still listed as “Countdown” by most DVRs, would draw an audience to MSNBC. Plus, Tuesday’s show had the State of the Union address as its led-in, should’ve helped as well.
Yet ratings sagged for “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” compared with the week before, according to same-day Nielsen figures that Brad Adgate of Horizon Media ran at the request of the Kansas City Star.
Here are the grim numbers for O’Donnell’s program:
· 332,000 viewers in the prime 25-to-54-year-old demographic watched “Last Word” on Monday, less than Olbermann one week earlier
· That number rose only slightly on SOTU night, to 359,000 viewers in the demo (compared with 260,000 the week before)
· Wednesday’s show drew just 219,000 viewers ages 25-54 compared with 248,000 for “Countdown” one week prior
Even more ominous for MSNBC is this: CNN’s “Parker Spitzer,” which was routinely trounced by “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” is now competitive against “Last Word.” In the all-important 25-54 age demographic favored by advertisers, “Parker Spitzer” came within 50,000 viewers of “Last Word” on Wednesday. One week earlier, with Olbermann still on at 8 p.m, the gap was nearly 2-to-1.
“Last Word” did get a lift on Monday in total viewers, drawing 1.53 million people to its first broadcast in the new time period. But only 1.34 million tuned in the next night and 1.08 million on Wednesday, suggesting that the viewers who were going to sample the new guy’s show already have.
By comparison, “Parker Spitzer” is drawing an audience less than half that size yet competing in the demo. This suggests that CNN is poised for a comeback very much along the lines of what Olbermann engineered at MSNBC, ignoring total viewership and just targeting those all-important 25-54 viewers.
Indeed, that was already happening at 9PM, when CNN appeared to get its groove back thanks to a new host. “Piers Morgan Tonight” beat Rachel Maddow four out of five nights last week in the key demographic and that was with Keith Olbermann as her lead-in.
MSNBC is fortunate to have a rich parent. Comcast can easily absorb these dips in audience share — at least in the immediate weeks and months ahead but at the end of the day, MSNBC is a for-profit business and Comcast, will eventually be forced to examine the business model of their evening cable line-up.