Last night’s broadcast of Countdown on the mothership, NBC, was a major coup for Keith Olbermann and his MSNBC program.
For all the clamoring for attention that goes on amongst the cable news kiddies, they are all fighting for slices of a relatively small pie. The ratings leader, Bill O’Reilly, averages about 2 million viewers a day. The lowest rated network news program (CBS) pulls in over 6 million. So graduating to the network opens millions of doors to a cablecaster.
Olbermann, not surprisingly, benefited from this. The early results show him with 4.1 million viewers. That only earned him a third place finish, behind “60 Minutes” and “America’s Funniest Videos,” but it was good enough to quadruple his average MSNBC audience. What’s more, (and this has to hurt) it is twice what Bill O’Reilly does on an average night. And this despite having been preempted in some fairly significant markets (i.e. Philadelphia, Baltimore) which could adversely impact Countdown’s numbers.
This is a significant performance, because success is not guaranteed just by changing your address. Last month, Glenn Beck moved up to CNN from Headline News and barely scraped up the viewers he routinely got at his less-watched network. And he underperformed Paula Zahn, for whom he was filling in, by a whopping 23%.
The content of the show was not, in my opinion, representative of Olbermann’s best work. It seemed to me that either he, or the network, was holding back a bit. There were also extended humor segments that weighted the episode a little more to silliness than usual. Nonetheless, it may turn out to be the wise approach if viewers are more comfortable getting their news with a spoonful of aspartame. Still, I hope that if he gets another at bat, the network lets Olbermann be Olbermann. The show is the fastest growing program on cable news for a reason.