Keith Olbermann Could Boost Ratings for Current TV Tenfold: Analyst

10:39 AM PST 02/08/2011 by Georg Szalai
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The channel’s current average primetime viewership draws about 23,000.

Industry analysts on Tuesday said the addition of Keith Olbermann will help put Current TV on the map in terms of programming, ratings and increased carriage opportunities. 

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. "Keith Olbermann obviously was the man who made MSNBC, and he has got a very loyal audience," Harrigan said. "This is huge for Current." 
 
"It is the first thing Current TV has done since launch to put itself on the map," Larry Gerbrandt, principal at Media Valuation Partners agreed. "It's been a non-factor in terms of programming…for the first time, this puts Current on the map as a real player."
 
He cautioned though that Olbermann's ratings should at least start off lower. "This is not unlike Conan O'Brien moving to TBS," he said. "We'll have to see what the impact is. But it is unlikely that he will perform better than he did on MSNBC." 
 
RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank echoed that the Olbermann hire “definitely raises the profile of Current.” But he cautioned that any ratings benefit may not necessarily endure. "My bet is it will [raise viewership] for the first week or two," he said. "Let’s see what happens after that."
 
Which cable news network will feel ratings pain as a result of Olbermann's new job? 
 
"There are plenty of viewers to go around, but MSNBC was going to lose viewers because of losing Olbermann anyway, and this has already happened," Gerbrandt suggested. "I don't think he takes away viewers from anybody else. It's not a zero-sum game." 
 
Analysts also see Olbermann's addition as a boost to Current's efforts to expand its reach. It currently is in 60 million U.S. homes via digital tiers. 
 
"Current currently doesn't have the same distribution as MSNBC, so this will make it easier for them to get wider distribution," Gerbrandt said about the Olbermann hire. 
 
With digital cable being "so ubiquitous" these days, current distributors would likely leave Current TV on digital tiers instead of moving it to a basic tier, Harrigan suggested. "And [distributors] might even want to leave it there to entice people to upgrade, because he is almost like a Howard Stern type," he said. He really has his fanatic followers." 
 
Current ad sales are likely negligible for Current, but the network would get a chance to start developing that revenue stream with higher ratings, Harrigan added. 
 
Meanwhile, Olbermann's getting a stake in Current is "a bit unusual in terms of a news personality," Gerbrandt said in echoing others. "We already have the precedent of Oprah Winfrey having a network named after her” and co-owning OWN, he said. “But they haven't named the network after him." 
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