CNN's historically dismal ratings are just one of many headaches for broadcasters

The New York Times | All Things Digital | CBS | Paid Content | The Atlantic

CNN's April numbers were its worst in a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. But Tuesday The New York Times reported its ratings for the second week of May were its worst since 1991. As Bill Carter explains:

CNN has seen its competitive position erode for several years without instituting significant changes in its overall approach. The network’s management has kept to its course of emphasizing news coverage and not the views of its prime-time personalities.

And then there's this little matter of the Internet. CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton told The Journal's Keach Hagey subscriber fees account for about half of CNN's revenue. But cable companies like CNN are now scrambling to count subscribers who consume their content on devices other than TVs. As Peter Kafka writes in All Things Digital, "the media-measurement business is full of different tests and initiatives, all shooting off in different directions."

At least CNN doesn't have to contend with Auto Hop yet. That technology, which is included with the Dish Network's "Hopper" DVR, automatically skips commercials on broadcast network shows, something execs at those companies aren't wildly enthusiastic about.

During a presentation to advertisers at Radio City Music Hall, Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting, called the Dish Network feature "an insult to our joint investment in programming."

At paidContent, Daniel Frankel wonders if the brash technology is a bargaining chip: "By throwing a Molotov Cocktail directly at broadcasters, might Dish be looking for a negotiating hedge against the Big Four Networks to help control fast-rising retransmission costs?"

And there's another headache on the horizon: The FCC is deciding whether to treat Internet video companies like Hulu and YouTube the same as cable providers, Brian Stelter writes. While no large provider has gone "over the top" yet, offering a package of cable networks via an Internet connection, Stelter says Apple and Google, which owns YouTube, are among the companies that have mulled such a gambit. If the FCC reclassifies such services as multichannel video programming distributors, providers would conceivably be able to customize which channels consumers receive. At which point CNN wouldn't be the only channel that would lose its imperviousness to ratings.

Writing in The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal reflects on perhaps the original broadcast disrupter: The wireless remote control, whose inventor, Eugene Polley, died this past Sunday.

The remote control was one of the first devices that users could use to craft their own experience of the medium of television. While we think of channel surfers as mindless at times, they were, at least, making active and frequent choices about what programming to watch. Within the constraints of the available content, they were programming their televisions, not solely being programmed.

Related: CNN ratings drop not bad (yet) for its bottom line

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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