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CNN rules online

Apr 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Though Fox News has established its leadership in the all-news cable network ratings battle, CNN.com still trounces the competition online.
CNN.com’s unique audience rose 58 percent for the week ended March 23, the first full week of the war in Iraq, to 10 million users in the workplace. MSNBC.com was second with 8.3 million users, a 38 percent rise. Foxnews.com saw its online viewership increase by 78 percent but is still at only 2.3 million, which ranks seventh among news Web sites, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. (A unique user is an individual who visits the Web site; that person is counted once during the ratings measurement period no matter how many times he or she returns to the site.)
At home, AOL leads in usage with more than 7.4 million unique visitors for the week ended March 23. MSNBC and CNN were close on its heels at 7.4 million and 7.2 million, respectively. Foxnews.com generated 1.6 million users at home.
The reason for CNN’s online dominance over its TV news competitors is that it built its overall brand equity during the Gulf War in 1991, said Greg Bloom, senior analyst with Nielsen//NetRatings. “If you are thinking real-time news, you are going to think CNN,” he said.
Advertising agency Universal McCann conducted a study in late March on the interest in TV news coverage of the war. In the survey, Universal McCann asked participants what news sources they turned to for war coverage. CNN was mentioned most often, with Fox News second.
CNN had a strong edge, by about 10 to 12 percentage points, which is contrary to the overall Nielsen ratings for both networks, said Jon Swallen, senior VP and director of media knowledge at the agency.
A closer analysis, though, explains the seemingly contradictory poll results and supports CNN’s superior Web site traffic figures, Mr. Swallen said. The Universal McCann study did not ask how much time respondents spent watching the two news sources, just whether they watched any programming on them. CNN has a clear leadership in that regard, since more people cycle through CNN and check it out for quick news hits, but Fox viewers stay on the channel longer and are generally more interested in war coverage, he said.
CNN attracts more casual traffic to its TV coverage than Fox, a phenomenon that carries over to CNN.com. “CNN, with 12 years of branding [since the 1991 Gulf War], has been able to successfully extend the TV brand to the Internet,” Mr. Swallen said. “Fox, on the other hand, established themselves as a TV brand and hasn’t really effectively transferred that to an Internet brand. For more occasional, irregular news viewers, the top-of-mind awareness favors CNN.”
Interestingly, MSNBC has lagged in the television ratings but is the second-most-trafficked news Web site. That’s due in part to its affiliation with Microsoft. Many MSN and Hotmail users use MSN as their default homepage, which can shoot users over to MSNBC.com, Mr. Bloom said.