In Depth

CNN Ratings Down; Fox, MSNBC Grow

CNN bled primetime ratings points in the first quarter of 2009 and Fox News Channel led the cable news networks on several fronts during a news cycle marked by the beginning of President Barack Obama’s administration and a global economic crisis.

Among the three major cable news networks, Fox News averaged 2.3 million viewers during primetime in the first quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research. The network had its third best quarter in primetime viewership, behind the fourth quarter of 2008 (presidential election coverage) and the third quarter of 2005 (Hurricane Katrina coverage). CNN averaged 1.1 million viewers, while MSNBC had about 950,000. Compared with last year, Fox News rose 24%, CNN declined 10% and MSNBC was up 22%.

For the total day, Fox News led with 1.2 million viewers, followed by CNN with 740,000 and MSNBC with 473,000. All three networks saw increases for total viewership for the day over the first quarter of 2008, with Fox News up 26%, CNN up 17% and MSNBC up 20%.

Among the key adults 25-54 demographic, Fox News was also the highest ranked in both total-day and primetime averages. The network finished the quarter with an average 511,000 viewers in the demo during primetime, up 19% from last year, and 317,000 for the total day, up 23%. CNN was, again, the only one to take a dip in primetime, averaging 343,000 viewers 25-54, down 22% from last year, and 236,000 viewers for total-day, up 7%. MSNBC tied CNN in primetime average viewers in the demo with 343,000, up 7% from last year, and 180,000 viewers in the demo, up 11%.

In all of cable, Fox News finished the quarter as the second-most-watched network in primetime, behind only USA Network. CNN ranked 17th, MSNBC placed 24th and HLN, CNN’s sister news channel, came in 30th. For the total programming day, Fox News was 5th, CNN was 14th and MSNBC was 28th.

Fox News also dominated the list of top news analysis programs, claiming nine of the top 10 spots. “The O’Reilly Factor” finished first, averaging 3.4 million viewers and posting a 27% gain over last year. “O’Reilly” also wrapped up the month of March with its 100th consecutive month in the No. 1 spot. Following “O’Reilly” in the top five were “Hannity” (2.7 million), “Glenn Beck” (2.2 million), “Special Report With Bret Baier” (2 million) and “The Fox Report With Shepard Smith” (1.9 million). MSNBC broke into the top 10 with “Countdown With Keith Olbermann,” which averaged 1.4 million viewers for the quarter.

(Editor: Baumann)