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*Today’s New York Times reported that Cable news channel, Current TV fired its star anchorman, Keith Olbermann as follows;

“Current said on Friday afternoon that it had fired Mr. Olbermann — one of the nation’s most prominent progressive speakers — just a year into his five-year, $50 million contract. It was the culmination of months of murky disputes between Mr. Olbermann and the channel that he was supposed to save from the throes of ratings oblivion.”

Though my professional background was advertising (long, long ago), I heard the word, “ratings oblivion” for the first time. Does it mean “declining viewing rate,” or “rise of oblivion rate” of the show? Why is it “ratings oblivion,” not “oblivion rate (or ratings)? Is it a new advertising jargon?

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3 Answers 3

My interpretation is that it is a jargon-y way of saying 'ratings so low there is no longer any hope of raising them'; 'oblivion rate', in this context, would not make sense (hence why it was not used), as that would imply 'oblivion' is either some measure of speed or a metric of ratings (depending on your interpretation of 'rate').

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Oblivion is a "state of being disregarded or forgotten", and ratings oblivion is a non-idiomatic term for being quite low in the ratings.

Ratings in this case refers to estimates of viewership, such as Nielsen Ratings:

When TV viewers or entertainment professionals in the United States mention "ratings" they are generally referring to Nielsen Ratings, a system developed by the New York City-based firm Nielsen Media Research to determine which shows television viewers watch at what times. Other ratings systems include those developed by Arbitron for radio programming and the Q Score for general markets.

Olbermann was hired by Current TV in January, 2011; while some articles refer to him failing to save Current TV from "the throes of ratings oblivion", others emphasize breach-of-contract as the reason for him being fired.

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Oblivion derives from Latin oblīviōn-em forgetfulness, state of being forgotten.

Ratings in this context means television viewership ratings (I'm not keen on the word viewership, but I just cut & pasted from Wikipedia).

As zandomatter says, the combination ratings oblivion is really just "industry jargon". But since the media industry talks about itself a lot, it's well-known to most native speakers.

If your tv show is at the bottom of the ratings league, by implication the audience have already forgotten it, so you can forget about striking a lucrative deal with advertisers/sponsors, or planning a new series.

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@FumbleFingers.I had been with a New York-based ad agency as an account service manager for 30 years up to 1995, and actually involved in compilement of in-house ad jargon glossaries a couple of times. But I’d met no such word as ‘ratings oblivion.’ At least it wasn’t the currency in ad business at that time. So I think this is a relatively new ad jargon. But the arrangement of “ratings +oblivion” appears somewhat awkward to me. I wonder why the writer just plainly say ‘declining ratings,’ ‘continued decline of ratings’ or ‘low viewership’. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 31 '12 at 22:01
    
@Yoichi Oishi: The form "xxxx oblivion", where xxxx is some sphere of endeavour (or symbol thereof, such as ratings representing tv broadcasts), is a quite well-established one meaning "no longer remembered/well-known/successful [in that sphere]". Political oblivion and literary oblivion, for example. It's a more forceful way of saying declining, in that it implies the decline is already so great you've actually been forgotten about by people who are interested in your sphere. –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '12 at 0:34

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