CNN: The Tragedy Queen Cable Network

CNN correspondent Kyung Lah speaks on camera at Pearce Airbase in Bullsbrook, 35 kms north of Perth on March 25 during media coverage of the air and sea search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 Photograph by Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images

For all the complaints about CNN’s breathless coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (This just in: no new developments!) , the cable network’s nonstop coverage certainly pays off from a business point of view. Big news events draw eyeballs. And delivering big ratings numbers for advertisers means more money in the cable network’s pocket, and better returns for Time Warner shareholders.

It makes sense that CNN’s ratings spike during major news events, but you may be surprised at how much. Check out the chart below that correlates CNN’s rating performance with major news events. The numbers shown are weekly averages—reminding us that each of these events were not single-day anomalies but topics big enough to hold an audience for multiple days.

Let media critics howl. In truth, viewers come in droves to CNN when there are big global news events. For all the talk about the increasingly fragmented world of television audiences, CNN’s saturation-coverage strategy works.