"It could bring down the average rating [of the network]," says Gary Carr, senior vice president and executive director of national broadcast for media-buying agency Targetcast TCM. "There will be some upset people." "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" had been averaging 1.05 million total viewers since September.
Still, Carr says many advertisers don't just buy one show on any cable network. Typically, advertisers buy run-of-schedule media buys; they purchase many TV shows on a network's prime-time lineup -- and for other dayparts as well -- rather than cherry-picking specific shows.
That said, "Countdown" has generally been MSNBC's top-rated show for the last couple of seasons. TV executives credit Olbermann with helping to push MSNBC past CNN ratings in overall ratings in recent years. He has been a big drawing card for regular TV news advertisers.
According to media executives, pricing for the show was roughly around $4,000 to $4,500 for a 30-second commercial prime-time spot. That amounts to a $15 cost per thousand 25-54 viewers, the key TV news demographic.
Since last September, Olbermann has been averaging around 275,000 25-54 viewers. But other MSNBC shows have been doing about as well. "The Rachel Maddow Show" has been pulling in 273,000 25-54 viewers; "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" has been getting 255,000 viewers in that demographic.
"It was a bit of surprise," says Carr, of the departure news. "'Olbermann' is one of the higher-rated shows on the network. Certainly, he has helped the network's ratings. But we buy a number of shows and dayparts on the network. Certainly, we are disappointed. But our buys are guaranteed."
An MSNBC spokesman said: "We're in the process of talking to clients now. We haven't had any issues."
Could Olbermann's exit hurt MSNBC? "Potentially," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president/corporate media director for Horizon Media. "These networks are driven by personalities. He was someone that went beyond the show -- his feuding with Fox News, for example. It helped the network boost their profile."
Still another media-buying executive said it was just Olbermann's highly controversial opinions that got him into trouble and made some advertisers shy away. Said the executive: "Far more advertisers buy MSNBC and exclude Olbermann (there are many) than just buy him in a vacuum."