A Tough 2010: Keith Olbermann’s Ratings Drop by 25%

The bad news keeps coming for MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. The 2010 ratings data is starting to trickle in, and the news is not so great for the Countdown host. In a down year for cable news where all three networks registered a decline in viewers, Keith Olbermann lost 11% of his total audience, but what is most troubling is that among the coveted age 25-54 demographic Olbermann lost 25% of his audience.

In terms of total viewers all three of the cable networks suffered. Fox News declined 5% in 2010 from a Monday-Friday average of 2.568 million viewers in 2009 to 2.426 million in 2010. MSNBC was down 9% in 2010 from 953,000 viewers in 2009 to 870,000 viewers in 2010. CNN suffered a stunning 36% drop in total viewers from 1 million viewers in 2009 to 636,000 viewers in 2010. In the 25-54 demo, Fox News suffered only a 6% drop, because almost 70% + of the audience is older than 54. MSNBC declined by 18% in the demo, and CNN fell by a whopping 37%.

Keith Olbermann’s total drop in viewership was 2% higher than MSNBC’s network average, (11% vs 9%). In contrast, Rachel Maddow lost less of her audience than MSNBC as a whole. Maddow only declined by 6% compared to the network’s 11%. Maddow’s total loss was almost half of her lead in Olbermann, (6% compared to 11%). Olbermann also lost a higher than network percentage of those viewers age 25-54. MSNBC lost 18%. Olbermann lost 25%. Maddow only lost 14%.

Olberman is still MSNBC’s most watched host. Overall, he is the 11th most watched cable news program, but Rachel Maddow was right behind him at 13th, and Lawrence O’Donnell was 14th. The gap between Olbermann and his MSNBC primetime colleagues is shrinking, which is good for the network. The point is that Olbermann’s audience is getting older, and he is working on a network that is trying to target younger viewers. This isn’t to say that Olbermann is doomed at MSNBC, far from it actually, but that 2010 was not a good year for him.

With new bosses about to take over NBC, this is a trend that Olbermann and his staff would be wise to take seriously. Olbermann’s contract is up after the 2012 election, and I suspect that the presidential election will serve its usual purpose as a ratings elixir for the cable news industry, but if Olbermann can’t attract younger viewers, and the ad dollars that come with them, the network could make a switch, but two years is a long time away.

If CNN stays in the tank, I could see them welcoming Olbermann and his million viewers a night with open arms, which would be a big reason why MSNBC would not let him ago, along with the fact that a million viewers is still the best number MSNBC has at any hour. Olbermann has cost himself some viewers on the left in this past year, and I think he has been hurt by not having a Republican foil to play off of in the White House, plus, the passing of his father had to impact him, so I don’t think Olbermann is finished yet. However, it is worth watching going forward to see if 2010 was just a bad year or the beginning of a trend.

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