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3rd-quarter ratings spike for TV news

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Because it ended with nearly three weeks of earth-rattling drama and tension that riveted viewers by the millions, the third quarter produced ratings with talking points to spare for all news organizations, even if they are still skittish about hawking their ratings too loudly.
CNN reasserted itself as the dominant news-network brand, with third-quarter averages of 701,000 viewers for total day (a year-to-year increase of 143 percent) and 1.262 million in prime time (up 115 percent year to year), according to data from Nielsen Media Research.
Fox News Channel averaged 509,000 viewers for total day and 962,000 in prime time for the quarter, the 14th straight quarter it could claim the biggest year-to-year gains for total day (up 253 percent) and the sixth straight quarter it could make the same claim in prime time (up 192 percent).
MSNBC, which had competed around the clock with NBC News coverage (or even simulcasts of its own coverage on local stations around the country) for most of the week following the terrorist attack, still achieved the channel’s strongest quarter in its history, averaging 385,000 viewers for total day (a year-to-year increase of 93 percent) and 975,000 in prime time (also an increase of 93 percent).
MSNBC also continued to skew the youngest of all news channels, with a third-quarter median age of 47 for total day and prime time, followed by CNN (52 for total day and 54 in prime time) and Fox (54 for total day and 55 in prime time).
Still, in the 25 to 54 demo, Fox again noted the biggest year-to-year increases for the quarter, up 308 percent for total day and 219 percent in prime time, followed by CNN (up 237 percent total day and 195 percent prime time) and MSNBC (up 103 percent and 114 percent, respectively).
At CNN, “Larry King Live,” usually the network’s ratings king, was tied with “The Point With Greta Van Susteren” for highest-rated regularly scheduled cable show for the quarter. Both averaged a 4.1 rating.
For the week of Sept. 24, when viewing patterns were settling down somewhat, CNN was averaging 1.756 million viewers for total day and 3.080 million in prime time (with new anchor Aaron Brown’s “Special Report” at 10 p.m. averaging 1.345 million viewers, up 158 percent from the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. hour from January through Sept. 10).
Still narrowing the gap for the week of Sept. 24 was Fox, with 1.119 million viewers for total day and 1.991 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC averaged 912,000 viewers for total day and 1.359 million viewers in prime time.
In the broadcast-news world, “NBC Nightly News” took the third quarter with an average 8.855 million viewers, followed closely by “ABC World News Tonight” with 8.768 million viewers-although “World News Tonight” (10.70 million viewers, up 23 percent year to year) edged “Nightly News” (10.64 million viewers, up 12 percent year to year) for the week of Sept. 24 by a margin of 60,000 viewers. “CBS Evening News” averaged 8.768 million viewers for the quarter and 8.92 million viewers for the week of Sept. 24, a year-to-year increase of 12 percent.
One highlight for NBC: On Sunday, Sept. 23, when Vice President Dick Cheney sat for the hour with Tim Russert, NBC’s “Meet the Press” attracted 9 million viewers in the morning and another 6 million viewers in repeat on MSNBC, making for a cumulative audience that was by far its biggest on record.
On Sept. 30, the Sunday newsmaker landscape was looking more normal, with “Meet the Press” averaging 4.765 million viewers, followed by ABC’s “This Week” (3.743 million), CBS’s “Face the Nation” (3.507 million) and “Fox News Sunday” (1.367 million).