MSNBC Ratings Down Since Olbermann’s Departure

CNN edging in on No. 2 spot

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Things aren’t looking good for MSNBC, which is apparently on the precipice of falling back into third place among cable news networks, The New York Times reported today. And according to the Times, it’s all Keith Olbermann’s fault.

The latest ratings for September show that CNN, which has long held the No. 3 spot behind MSNBC, is edging in on the competition—a continuing effect of the polarizing but popular Olbermann's departure from MSNBC last January. For the month, CNN averaged 257,000 prime-time viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. Meanwhile, MSNBC is losing viewers, ending the period with 269,000 viewers—barely more than CNN.

Much of this ratings change has to do with host shuffling in the 8 p.m. hour, says the Times. A year ago, when Olbermann held that slot on MSNBC, the network beat CNN by 83,000 viewers. MSNBC boasted an audience of 256,000 while CNN had 173,000.

While CNN has seen a boost in its 8 p.m. ratings in the past year—increasing 38 percent to 215,000 viewers since Anderson Cooper took over the spot—MSNBC’s have slipped. Olbermann’s replacement Lawrence O’Donnell has lost 35 percent of the former host’s audience a year ago, dropping to 185,000 viewers between 25 and 54. Rachel Maddow, one of MSNBC’s most popular hosts, has also felt the effects of Olbermann’s departure. Her numbers dropped 15 percent this year, from 289,000 down to 245,000. (She still beats Piers Morgan, her 9 p.m. competition, in ratings, although his audience has grown since he took over Larry King’s old time slot.)

Olbermann’s new show on Current TV, which is up against O’Donnell on MSNBC at 8 p.m., has a considerably smaller audience than his bigger cable rivals—he averaged just over 50,000 viewers between the ages of 25 to 54 in September—but he’s likely pulling those viewers away from MSNBC, says the Times.

Of course, both MSNBC’s and CNN’s ratings are nowhere near those of perennial leader Fox News. The network’s prime-time lineup averaged 526,000 viewers per night in September, while 8 p.m. host Bill O’Reilly pulled in an audience of 611,000 people—triple the audience of Anderson Cooper or Lawrence O’Donnell.

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.