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After serving up my regular critiques of the MSM OlbyLovers among the TV Critics Association to hundreds of thousands of loyal Olbermann Watch readers, many readers have written asking me how I can be so certain that these "OlbyLoons in journalists clothing" are manipulating the Nielsen ratings data and are playing fast and loose with ratings data to portray Keith in the positive possible light in order to justify their constant drumbeat of Keith Olbermann's supposed ratings juggernaut.
I thought I would take a moment to share with you some of the REALITY about Keith's ratings and put the constant hype in some context. For fun I am going to toss in some analysis of Keith's favorite bogeyman, Bill O'Reilly.
Let's start with the real numbers...
Fox News has apparently been kind of enough to send Brian Stelter of TVNewser that "Program Ranker" data for months, quarters and years including the most recent batch (apparently his whining that Fox News would not deal with him paid off). So, we have the full year data for 2004 and 2005. We also have the quarterly data for the first three quarters of 2006 and can use those both to analyze this year's data and create a "Year to Date" number to permit comparisons with 2004 and 2005 (we can do this again in a few months with the 2006 data is released).
You can check for yourself but I have pulled share, P2+ (all) and Demo (25-54) data from each for The O'Reilly Factor (BOR) and Countdown with Keith Olbermann (KO):
BOR 1.8 (2,057/478)
KO 0.4 (391/152)
BOR 1.8 (2,077/394)
KO 0.3 (334/123)
BOR 2.0 (2,274/446)
KO 0.3 (404/164)
BOR 2.2 (2,490/564)
KO 0.4 (375/142)
BOR 2.1 (2,413/689)
KO 0.4 (350/113)
I don't know how to make HTML tables too well so until some kind reader sends me the code to make this format correctly you will just have to do your best to read through the table:
Share 2004 2005 1Q06 2Q06 3Q06 06 YTD/Avg
BOR 2.1 2.2 2.1 1.8 1.8 1.9
KO 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.3
RATIO 5 6 7 6 5 6
ALL* 2004 2005 1Q06 2Q06 3Q06 06 YTD/Avg
BOR 2,413 2,490 2,274 2,077 2,057 2,136
KO 350 375 404 334 391 376
RATIO 7 7 6 6 5 6
DEMO* 2004 2005 1Q06 2Q06 3Q06 06 YTD/Avg
BOR 689 564 446 394 478 439
KO 113 142 164 123 152 146
RATIO 6 4 3 3 3 3
Share 04 v. 06 YTD 05 v. 06 YTD 1Q06 v. 3Q06 2Q06 v. 3Q06
BOR -10% -14% -14% 0%
KO -17% -17% 33% 33%
ALL* 04 v. 06 YTD 05 v. 06 YTD 1Q06 v. 3Q06 2Q06 v. 3Q06
BOR -11% -14% -10% -1%
KO 8% 0% -3% 17%
DEMO* 04 v. 06 YTD 05 v. 06 YTD 1Q06 v. 3Q06 2Q06 v. 3Q06
BOR -36% -22% 7% 21%
KO 29% 3% -7% 24%
As you can see there are numbers for everyone here. Depending on which time period you choose, Keith is either on the rise or in a spiral. O'Reilly is either collapsing or rebounding. There is no "right" answer to any of this which is my central point - that the MSM always - and I mean always - picks whatever time period or whatever data set is most favorable to Keith. In the past few weeks, the AP, USA TODAY and others have taken to comparing Keith's recent ratings with the historically low ratings from the week before Labor Day and have focused on the P2+ (all viewers) data. In the spring, when KO was edging out Paula Zahn at CNN in the demo all of the MSM articles focused on the demo numbers and Keith's relative success against CNN in this relatively small segment of the cable news viewing audience. When Keith's numbers began to collapse between April and June there was nary a peep in the TV press about Countdown's slide from 2nd in the demo to 3rd or that in the P2+ ratings he was bouncing off the basement floor with some nights behind Headline News and CNBC (i.e., coming in 4th or 5th place).
Now, before anyone accuses me of being unfair to Keith, let me say that Keith is doing better than when we first starting covering him in 2004. Back then he averaged 350,000 viewers a night and this year, over the first three quarters, he is averaging 376,000 which is a nice 8% increase.
Yet you will also note that last year Keith was averaging 375,000 viewers per night. So, with all the hype and hoopla about the KO Ratings juggernaut this year, he has grabbed a whopping 1,000 new viewers. See what I mean by hype?
What about the vaunted "Demo"? As you can see, in 2004 Keith was getting a paltry 113,000 25-54 viewers. This year, so far, he is getting 146,000 which is a highly respectable 29% increase. Of course, in 2005 Keith had 142,000 viewers per night in the demo which is again a barely perceptible increase in demo viewership.
You can play with the quarter-on-quarter data too. If you like, Keith is UP 17% from last quarter to this quarter. Or he is DOWN 3% from the beginning of the year. Or he is FLAT from last year. In the Demo, Keith is currently UP 29% compared to 2004 or he is DOWN 7% from the beginning of the year.
Keith and his fellow OlbyLoons love to pick nits with O'Reilly so let's take a look there. Clearly, The O'Reilly Factor has lost viewers this year after getting 2,413,000 in 2004 and 2,490,000 in 2005. The YTD has dropped to 2,136,000 or DOWN 10-14% depending on which period you pick. The biggest change is in the demo where O'Reilly has dropped from 689,000 in 2004 to 439,000 this year-to-date or DOWN 36%. In fact, the number suggest that about 3/4ths of the drop in O'Reilly viewers has come in the demo. But those viewers have not left O'Reilly for Olbermann. In fact, O'Reilly has lost more demo viewers (250,000) over the past two years than Keith has ever HAD viewers in the demo (the high was 164,000 in 2005). Now, those viewers have tuned out altogether and gone elsewhere - but certainly not to Keith.
Another area of comparison is "share" which measures households watching a show as a percentage of total households watching TV. This is a good number to use because it removes, to some extent, news-driven spikes in viewership. As you can see, Olbermann's share number has been remarkably constant over the years - hovering between 0.3 and 0.4. To my point, however, the reality is that KO's share number is DOWN 33% this year.
Since O'Reilly likes to mention it, I also took a look at the "ratio" figures. O'Reilly has actually INCREASED his "share ratio" (from a 5:1 advantage to a 6:1 advantage). His "P2+ share" is down slightly but still a whopping 6:1 ratio. Where KO has made inroads has been in the Demo where he has cut O'Reilly's advantage from 6:1 to 3:1. Yet, the vast majority of that gap has come from O'Reilly LOSING audience in the demo not from Keith gaining in the demo.
It is this data that I am looking at when I read articles pushing the MSNBC PR departments contortions to produce "analysis" purporting to show KO's "success" in the Nielsen ratings.
A spin-free analysis of the data would tell you this:
Keith has shown a modest increase, both overall and in the demo, over the past couple of years. During the current year, Keith showed modest improvement in the first quarter of this year courtesy of NBC Sports airing some Winter Olympic events on MSNBC thus serving as a lead-in for Countdown but was unable to retain that new audience. He saw his numbers drop significantly in the spring and has had a bit of a rebound during the last quarter.
Compare that reality with the constant KO hype in the MSM and hopefully you can appreciate why I scoff at these absurd claims that KO is UP 33% or UP 69%. He is doing better than last year. He is not doing that much better. And compared to the beginning of the year he is doing worse. O'Reilly is doing worse but not that much worse. Compared to O'Reilly, Keith has narrowed the gap slightly but is still getting trounced by any measure you choose.
More importantly, compared to himself, Keith has not been able to demonstrate any consistent ability to build and sustain an audience since his show first went on the air in 2003.
The simple fact is that the bulk of the membership of the TV Critics Association wants Keith to succeed. They regularly bash O'Reilly and Fox News and go out of their way to find a pretext to boost Olbermann. Keith is well-known for "working" the TCA membership and his constant sucking up to them has paid off in gallons of positive ink in the mainstream press. We saw the same phenomenon with Air America Radio where the MSM lavished positive coverage on the nascent liberal radio network out of all proportion. And when Air America Radio went into an almost immediate tailspin - losing two of its first five stations in the first few months - the press was silent. Tell me how much positive coverage Rush Limbaugh got in the MSM for building a show now broadcast on over 600 radio stations. Not much. Tell me how many stories you've seen on Bill O'Reilly's unrivaled success in building an audience for his show. Few and far between.
The bottom line is that Keith is constantly promoted by a liberal media determined to do what it can to "support" Keith so he can support their liberal agenda. Rush might call Keith the "Donavon McNabb" of cable news hosts.
Who knows? It might just work.
But for now, the facts suggest otherwise.