At the end of my review of Keith Olbermann's new "Countdown" show on Current TV, I said I hoped Olbermann would find an audience in his new TV home if for no other reason than to make CNN pay in its prime-time ratings gut for giving Eliot Spitzer a show. Read it here.
And, according to highly-selective Nielsen ratings figures released by Current, "Countdown" did beat CNN's "In the Arena," in the key demographic of viewers 25 to 54 years of age. Spitzer was on vacation -- not that anyone noticed.
Olbermann finished in third place with viewers in that demo. His replacement on MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell, had 237,000 in the demo, while Bill O'Reilly had 735,000 onFox News.
But here's the question readers have been asking: Why don't we know how many viewers Olbermann had overall?
And the answer is: Because Olbermann won't tell us. To some extent, we media reporters and analysts only have access to those Nielsen ratings the subscribers (their clients) allow them to release. Companies like Current pay Nielsen to count viewers -- and it is their tune to which Nielsen dances. (If you really want them, there are other ways to get the data. But that's another story.)
And Current has declined (I am trying to be nice) to share the size of Olbermann's overall audience with us. Given the demo figure, it has to be an exponential improvement over what Current had before, so my question: Why the selectivity?
Of course, the main reason for such a redacted ratings release is that it makes it easier to spin numbers when the folks are only getting the bright and shiny ones. And isn't that just the kind of corporate spin and truth-shading that Olbermann says his show is so against?
Of course, Current isn't the first to do this. Public TV stations have been notorious in years past for trying to keep the audience size of some of their weaker shows from the public, which was helping pay for them.
But it is hypocritical, isn't it to sit in front of a camera from 8 to 9 p.m. five nights a week demanding transparency from everyone else, and then playing the selective-release, PR, spin game with your Nielsen numbers?
But that's Olbermann, isn't it?
By the way, as folks like Conan O'Brien know, opening night numbers have a tendency to be inflated. So, let's not go nuts one way or the other over these.
Still, it is nice to see Olbermann beat Spitzer -- and do it from a channel that was drwaing about 23,000 viewers an hor in prime time.