In Depth

Fox News Capitalizes on Election in Ratings Race

The wild rides of the campaign for president and the economic turmoil boosted Fox News Channel’s prime-time block to fourth among all cable channels for the third quarter, extending its streak as the highest-rated cable news network to 27 consecutive quarters. According to data from Nielsen Media Research, FNC averaged 2.2 million total viewers in the 8-11 p.m. daypart for the just-concluded quarter.

CNN ranked ninth among all cable channels for the quarter with an average 1.3 million viewers, its biggest quarter since the Iraq war began in early 2003. MSNBC was 23rd with 867,000 total viewers and also posted the biggest year-to-year quarterly growth spurts: 81% in prime time and 48% for total-day.

For total-day, Fox averaged 1.1 million viewers to rank sixth among all cable channels, while CNN ranked 11th with an average 713,000 viewers. MSNBC averaged 472,000 viewers and ranked 27th.

For CNBC, its 5 a.m.-7 p.m. business-day average of 318,000 total viewers was up 26% year-to-year and ended as its third best quarter ever.

For the month of September, which included the first presidential debate, as well as the peak economic crunch that has dominated cable news for the last two weeks, Fox also ranked second among all cable channels in prime time with an average 3.3 million viewers. CNN ranked fifth with 1.9 million. MSNBC ranked 14th with 1.2 million.

For total-day in September, Fox also was the No. 2-ranked channel in the cable universe with 1.5 million total viewers. CNN was ranked eighth with 992,000. MSNBC ranked 22nd with 567,000.

For the month, CNN registered the biggest year-to-year growth, up 165% in prime time from September 2007, and up 107% for total-day.

Among the individual highlights:

—FNC’s “Special Report With Brit Hume” posted its highest quarter ever and its fourth-highest month.

—CNN Headline News’ “Nancy Grace” and “Glenn Beck” logged their best quarters ever in total viewer delivery for their original broadcasts (924,000 viewers and 376,000 viewers, respectively) and their repeats (559,000 viewers and 487,000, respectively).

—MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” averaged 1.64 million total viewers for its first two weeks, up 125% from the third-quarter 2008 average prior to its debut, while “Morning Joe” is the fastest-growing morning show in cable news, up 57% in total viewers year-to-year.

Fox placed 12 shows on the list of the 15 most watched cable news programs for the quarter, led by “The O’Reilly Factor” (2.9 million viewers). CNN’s “Larry King Live” ranked ninth (1.3 million viewers) and “Anderson Cooper 360” ranked 12th with 1.22 million viewers. MSNBC’s “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” ranked 11th with 1.24 million viewers.