NEW YORK — When the final Nielsen television ratings came out this week showing that CNN's Anderson Cooper edged out his Fox News competition in a key demographic in 2008, the network was quick to crow about it.
On Wednesday, CNN ran full-page ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal touting the fact that the first hour of "Anderson Cooper 360?" won the time period among 25- to 54-year-old viewers, the age group most sought after by advertisers who buy time during news programs.
"#1 in 2008," the ad declared in large type over a photo of Cooper, looking intensely into the distance.
The network's heavy emphasis on a relatively narrow victory speaks to CNN's eagerness to show it is competitive with Fox News, which has dominated the cable news race for the last seven years.
Cooper continued to place second in total audience behind Fox News' "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren," which averaged 1.79 million viewers for the year, the most the program has drawn. "AC 360" attracted 1.32 million viewers and MSNBC's repeat airing of "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" pulled in 725,000, according to Nielsen data provided by Fox News.
CNN was more interested in highlighting the viewership in the key advertising demographic, however. "AC 360" drew an average of 474,000 viewers ages 25 to 54 during the 7 p.m. PT hour, compared with 457,000 delivered by "On the Record." "Countdown" drew 284,000 viewers in that age group.
Cooper's win in the demographic can in part be ascribed to the clever way that CNN harnessed interest in the presidential election. While other networks often preempted their regular programming on big political nights to cover the primaries and debates, CNN frequently kept Cooper on as its main anchor during that hour and labeled the show "AC 360." That enabled the network to include the large viewership for those events in the program's overall ratings.
According to data from CNN and Fox News, "AC 360" was preempted on five primary nights, while "On the Record" was off during 11 big political events, including the New Hampshire primary and State of the Union address. Cooper's show ran after debates widely watched on CNN, while Van Susteren was bumped for Fox News' analysis of the Jan. 10 debate in South Carolina.
That helped boost Cooper's overall audience by 63% compared with 2007, while Van Susteren was up 35% year-to-year.