War of the Nielsen Ratings: MSNBC Cries Foul at CNN’s Claims of No. 1 in Viewers

July 18, 2009

(ChattahBox)—In a war of competing Nielsen measurements, the cable channel MSNBC is taking aim at CNN’s latest ad campaign claiming CNN is “No. 1, with more viewers than Fox and MSNBC.” Both Fox News and MSNBC beat CNN in traditional Nielsen prime time ratings in the second quarter, but CNN according to another Nielsen measurement, trumped both cable outlets in the cumulative total number of individuals watching television for at least six minutes in a given month.

CNBC is scoffing at CNN’s use of the total number of TV watching viewers, as mad science and fiction, contending that advertisers buy ads based on Nielsen’s traditional prime time ratings. CNBC is so incensed by CNN’s claims in its ad, that is requested Nielsen to investigate. Nielsen’s approval is required for print ads, but not for TV spots using its data.

“If we see it is misleading, we will advise them to change it,” a Nielsen spokeswoman said. MSNBC spokeswoman Alana Russo said, “MSNBC beat CNN in prime time last quarter. It seems to have driven our competitor from news to fiction writing.”

CNN defends the claims made in its promo, saying the ad is “based on fact.” “MSNBC is just anxious because they are not only behind CNN in the total number of individuals watching television each month, but they are trailing CNN on the Web and among the Web and television combined audience as well,” said CNN spokeswoman Carolyn Disbrow.

This dispute among cable outlets, concerning what particular Nielsen measurement is more relevant, demands a fresh look at the viability of traditional TV-only ratings, when an increasing number of people also get their news from the Web and mobil devices. A new Nielsen metric called Nielsen Fusion, measures combined viewership and online usage data.

The Nielsen Fusion rankings for April reveal CNN holding a significant lead over both MSNBC and Fox News, in its ability to reach all viewers, both on television, through mobile devices and online. According to a piece in Daily Finance, CNN reached 20 million Fusion viewers in the same month that Fox News only attracted 9 million.

Fox looks disparagingly on the new Nielsen Fusion measurements, but the new metric may very well represent an “in with the new and out with the old” way of measuring a modern news audience. “We used to be a television business,” said Jack Wakshlag, head of research for Turner Broadcasting. “We see our future in terms of being a multi-platform media company, added Wakshlag.

Meanwhile Fox News and CNBC continue to dominate in traditional Neilsen primetime ratings in the coveted 25-to-54 demographic, which remains important to advertisers.

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