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3 YEARS

Keith Olbermann Bounces Back From Record Ratings Low

Current execs say they're "ecstatic" with the numbers despite plateau.

Keith Olbermann
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on Current hit an all-time low last week in the 25-54 demographic. The show pulled in 85,000 viewers in the demo, that was down 2 percent compared to the previous week when the debt ceiling debate was still roiling Washington. Countdown averaged 208,000 total viewers, up 5 percent week-to-week.

But Countdown bounced back this week despite stiffer competition from CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 whose show moved into its new 8 p.m. slot on Monday. Countdown pulled in 128,000 viewers in the demo on Monday, within striking distance of Cooper's 140,000. MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell averaged 172,000 in the demo. 

On Tuesday, Cooper's second night anchoring at 8 p.m., AC360 averaged 228,000 viewers in the demo compared to O'Donnell's 244,000 and Olbermann's 103,000. Cooper has anchored the program this week from Africa. He was at the Kenya-Somalia border for Monday's show and Mogadishu on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Countdown has experienced a predictable ratings plateau after a big first week last June when Countdown averaged 354,000 total viewers with 131,000 in the demo.

Olbermann has nevertheless dramatically improved Current’s viewership over previously flat lining levels. And Current co-founder and CEO Joel Hyatt pronounced the network “ecstatic.”

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“The only way you can characterize those number is outstanding,” he told The Hollywood Reporter  earlier this week, adding that Current is available in 58 million homes while CNN is available in more than 100 million and MSNBC more than 95 million.

“People can’t watch us. People can watch CNN if they chose to do so in 73 percent more homes than they can if they choose to watch Current. It’s an amazing disadvantage," said Hyatt. "But notwithstanding, we’re fully competitive with CNN. In the seven weeks since we’ve gone on the air there have been many nights where in the demo there are more [viewers] watching Current than watching CNN. It is mind-boggling. The percentage increase over what we had on before will break your calculator. We’re off to a terrific start. And we’re just beginning.”

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Countdown’s seven-week average stands at 259,000 total viewers with 100,000 in the demo. For the month of July, Countdown pulled in 249,000 viewers and 97,000 in the demo. That was ahead of CNBC, which has never really been competitive in primetime, but behind CNN, MSNBC, HLN and Fox News. HLN’s Nancy Grace was second in the hour for the month of July thanks to enormous ratings gains during the Casey Anthony trial and verdict fallout. The Last Word was third and Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor was first as usual, though both shows were down in total viewers and the demo.

And although Countdown has beaten CNN in the demo a handful of times, CNN’s In the Arena finished the month of July ahead of Olbermann. It was In the Arena’s last month on the air after the jettisoning of original host Eliot Spitzer, who anchored his final program on July 6 (and turned up on a Countdown “web extra” earlier this week.) With a rotating cast of fill-in anchors, In the Arena averaged 535,000 total viewers with 152,000 in the demo, up 8 percent and 24 percent respectively.

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Meanwhile, Current continues to cast for hosts of programs at 7 and 9 p.m. and on Monday the network announced that former CNN executive David Bohrman would be president of programming. But Spitzer – who appeared Aug. 9 to talk about the ugly debt ceiling debate and “Murdoch-gate” – pointedly told Olbermann that he is focusing on his family business, teaching and writing and deflected queries that he would be returning to a regular TV gig any time soon. Olbermann has also had Young Turks radio host Cenk Uygur on to talk about Uygur’s recent split with MSNBC. And while Bohrman told THR that he is talking to a few people to anchor shows before and after Countdown, he declined to offer specific names.

“Keith is the beachhead and we need to build up both sides of Keith’s program, solidify that and then keep expanding around the day,” he said.