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Meltdown with Keith Olbermann Redux as Olby Reveals Post-MSNBC Plans

Posted on February 10 2011 1:00 pm
David Forsmark is the owner and president of Winning Strategies, a full service political consulting firm in Michigan. David has been a regular columnist for Frontpage Magazine since 2006. For 20 years before that, he wrote book, movie and concert reviews as a stringer for the Flint Journal, a midsize daily newspaper.
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Keith Olbermann announced this week he left the ratings cellar of MSNBC to join Al Gore’s Current TV, a network that would have to dig upward through many layers of strata to reach MSNBC’s basement.  This is not a lateral move, this is a Meltdown.

How bad are the ratings at Current?

  • I can’t find a cable company that allows local DMAs to sell commercials into it, due to lack of demand.
  • I am paid to watch cable news, and I wasn’t sure I had Current TV in my cable package.
  • Current TV does not have a hi-definition channel, or at least Comcast doesn’t carry it.
  • The average prime time audience on Current is less than 1/3 my local news station’s 6:00 broadcast in the nation’s 69th largest market
  • The prime time audience on Current is 1.5% of Olbermann’s former audience– which was already dwarfed by Bill O’Reilly’s.

Talk about digging your way out of a hole.

He's YOUR headache now, Al.

Media outlets the past couple days have trumpeted Olbermann’s return to cable TV.  Here is UPI’s basic regurgitation of the Olbermann/Al Gore press release:

NEW YORK, Feb. 8 (UPI) — Broadcast journalist and author Keith Olbermann is to serve as host of a new prime-time news and commentary show on Current TV, Current Media said.

The Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning TV and digital media company was founded in 2005 by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, and is now distributed to more than 75 million households around the world.

Maybe, but only 23,000 people watch Current—and that’s in prime time, nationwide!

To put that in perspective, my local station in Flint gets about 75,000 pairs of eyes 18 and over for its 6:00 PM news broadcast, and about 55,000 at 11:00.

In the 90s, I guest hosted a Detroit area Christian radio show that had over 50,000 listeners in one market on a bad day, and could peak at around 100,000.

The 2000 United States census counted over 25,000 “places” in the United States as local units of government.  There are more municipalities in the U.S. than viewers of Current TV.

The Hollywood Reporter found a media “analyst” to speculate that Olbermann could increase Current’s audience tenfold:

“Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan predicted that Olbermann’s return to the TV screen would mean “a huge impact on ratings” at the network. He estimated that the current average primetime viewership in the 20,000-30,000 range could multiply ten-fold or even more.”

Big whoop.  That would put Keith well below what a major market local news broadcast draws—or about the same as Chris Matthews’s nightly 5:00 whipping by Glenn Beck.

When I first heard the news, as the major outlets carried this as though it were a big story, (John Roberts leaving CNN for Fox was a way bigger deal and barely covered) I thought maybe this was a mostly internet broadcast like fellow crank Dan Rather on HDnet.

But Current TV is buried somewhere in the no man’s land of most cable systems, in the tier of channels that don’t come with basic cable and don’t have hi-def channels, like CSPAN3, and Weatherscan.

Maybe Keith’s first routine can be Hu’s on first… this is a Meltdown the Chicken Littles of The China Syndrome wouldn’t have even predicted.

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