Reports are out that CNN could finish third in March in overall prime-time viewers among cable news networks for the first time ever. MSNBC has made gains in grabbing second place. Both are well behind cable news leader Fox News Channel.
That said, CNN says it's still very profitable -- and intends to stick to what it knows best, delivering mostly straight-ahead news.
MSNBC and Fox have another story to tell. Fox has built up an incredible lead because of its strong and loud opinions over the years. Now MSNBC has found the right combination of doing more or less the same thing.
Critics will tell you those opinions are mostly from the right side of the political spectrum for Fox; somewhat left for MSNBC. Respective network executives won't say as much, instead claiming they respect and provide all points of view.
But both Fox and MSNBC execs would seem to agree that TV viewers are more in need of opinions about facts than ever before. What about the facts themselves? That's a murky area.
It's not so surprising this trend comes while the growing blogosphere offers the same deal: lots of opinion compared to a paucity -- or at least, harder to find -- reports that are just about facts.
But all these opinions can be dangerous, leading to myths, assertions, and claims that are difficult to trace. Then where are we? In fiction-land, that's where. So CNN continues to moves in the middle, a strategy it hopes will bring in a broader news viewer. The downside is that it might become a niche of the overall TV news business.
Though in third place in prime time, CNN says it is solidly in second place when looking at total day viewership. Of greater importance, CNN also says it has better reach among consumers than all its cable news rivals when considering all its media platforms.
CNN held the lead for years in overall TV advertising revenue -- despite Fox's No. 1 status among viewers. That may be the case, when factoring in all its media outlets. But demanding marketers may want more, catering to the whims of the growing news consumer looking for alternatives -- and attitude.
One executive at a competitor of CNN put it plainly: "What do they stand for?" In this culture, that seems more important than answering the question, "What kind of journalism is it offering?"