CNN Gains on MSNBC, Sets Off Analysis Frenzy Among Cable News Critics

With the release of 3rd quarter ratings, the tightened race for 2nd place behind Fox News stirs intrigue

So I guess everyone got CNN’s press release.

With cable news’ third quarter ratings released today, most news outlets opted for the same angle — CNN is gaining on MSNBC in the race for second place.

MSNBC edged its rival by just 12,000 viewers during primetime in the adults 25-54 demo.

Of course, first place is still out of the question. 

Though Fox fell to fifth in all of cable in prime time and seventh in total day, no other cable news network is even in the top 25 of either category.

Roger Ailes’ network also has nine of the top 10 shows in the adults 25-54 demo. Fox’s place atop the cable news universe? Beyond secure.

So, with journalists pushing for a fresh angle on the ratings competition, they all glommed onto the story of CNN gaining on MSNBC.

Bill Carter kicked things off in the New York Times this morning with more extensive analysis than most.

“How badly has MSNBC been hurt by the loss of Keith Olbermann? Enough, apparently, to be on the verge of falling back into third place among the cable news networks,” Carter wrote.

While Carter makes several strong points, his article still seems a bit lovey-dovey.

More puzzling was the quote from a journalism professor suggesting MSNBC slipped because of its partisan coverage. That was initially why critics thought it was gaining on CNN. CNN lacked a point of view.

Now the opposite is true?

Politico’s Keach Hagey and several others also reported on CNN’s gains, though Hagey was less hagiographic.

To be sure, MSNBC lost ground on CNN in September. As Carter points out, MSNBC edged its rival by just 12,000 viewers during primetime in the adults 25-54 demo. Discounting the GOP candidates’ debates, CNN actually beat MSNBC because MSNBC’s debate did much better.

With the election getting closer by the day, CNN and MSNBC will both spin the numbers in their favor.

MSNBC would be quick to point out that it still beat CNN, and the party line, as directed by President Phil Griffin, remains confidence. With Obama supporters disenchanted and the focus on Republican candidates, the network must hope that the thought of a Republican president reenergizes the base.

CNN no doubt expects to profit from more news with its extensive troupe of reporters, and hopes the election will move it firmly into second place.

For now, most of CNN’s primetime gains seem attributable to one person — Anderson Cooper.

While Piers Morgan’s numbers are up, it is Cooper who has powered increases at both 8 p.m., as well as 10 p.m., when his show re-airs. Cooper recently moved from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m., with CNN figuring that it was better to run its star twice than have two separate hosts.

Many of the writers now touting CNN were sour on Cooper’s early numbers, but it appears the tune has changed.

Before, the story was that he could not beat Lawrence O’Donnell. Now the story is that he is beating O’Donnell soundly in the demo (though losing in overall viewers).

Before, the strong performance of Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m. — better than at 8 p.m. — signaled a problem. Now? Not so much.

Oh the fickle group of cable news critics (to which I admit I belong).