Tuned In

Network News Races to the Bottom

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…of the ratings, that is. Last week, The CBS Evening News broke a new barrier, hitting an all-time low of fewer than 5 million viewers; ABC, chasing them at just over 6 mil, also hit its all-time ratings low. 

The networks will argue, of course, that at a combined audience of under 20 million, that they still have greater reach than any cable-news show. I’ve rebutted that frequently before, but (1) that’s also what they said at 25 million, and 30 million, not long ago and (2) given that cable (among others) are delivering news 24 hours a day, not 30 minutes, the networks’ portion of the collective news mindshare is simply getting smaller and smaller, however you spin it.

The more interesting question is: what happens if, someday, the lowest-rated network newscast gets lower ratings than the highest-rated cable news show? Right now, a Fox News host like O’Reilly gets, say, 3 million, on a good night. But just two years ago, CBS was considered low-rated at seven million viewers. Maybe there’s a natural bottom for 6:30 news ratings, but if so, we haven’t found it yet.  

On the bright side, for competitor ABC, it has its all-day health-care Obamathon to juice ratings today. But the President can’t show up every week.

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