Earlier this week, CNN executives contacted officials at the ratings agency Nielsen to raise questions about an advertisement run by their competitors at MSNBC.
At the top of the MSNBC print ad in question, big bold letters read: “MSNBC beat CNN in Primetime Q2.” At the bottom of the page, a line reads: “Buy the Momentum.” In between, the ad features the smiling mugs of three anchors, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews.
Nielsen reviews all print ads based on its data, including this one.
So what’s the problem?
CNN was taking issue not with the text of the ad, which after all passed muster with the Nielsen folks. Rather, they were concerned about the ad’s imagery, which was apparently not reviewed. Specifically, they were questioning the inclusion of Chris Matthews in MSNBC’s prime-time victory dance.
Because, while Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow did score prime-time victories over CNN in the second quarter, Chris Matthews did not. (Although Mr. Matthews is a major part of MSNBC’s brand, in terms of ratings, Hardball has topped CNN at 5 p.m. only a handful of months since the show’s debut in 2005.)
A quick look at the second-quarter numbers:
From March 30 to June 28, at 5 p.m., CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer topped Hardball with Chris Matthews in both total viewers (816,000 to 529,000) and in the 25-54 demographic (178,000 to 131,000). Moreover, at 7 p.m., during the second quarter, CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight topped the repeat of Hardball with Chris Matthews, again, in both total viewers (769,000 to 674,000) and in the 25-54 demographic (222,000 to 189,000).
The inquiry comes immediately on the heels of an incident last week, reported in the L.A. Times, in which MSNBC and Fox News executives took issue with CNN ads claiming to be “No. 1, with more viewers than Fox and MSNBC.” A spokesperson for MSNBC eventually referred to the CNN commercials as “fiction.” MSNBC also registered their displeasure with Nielsen.
Typically, after fielding such a phone call, Nielsen executives will review the ad in question and, if warranted, ask the offending network to clarify the promo in future incarnations.
“We appreciate CNN drawing attention to our recent ad touting our prime-time victory over them,” said an MSNBC spokesperson when reached for comment. “We encourage them to continue to do so.”