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War Brings Cable News Share Shifts

Apr 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Get beyond the historic cable-news-viewing levels and there are quantifiable shifts in the four all-news networks’ share of the cable-news audience over the first 21 days of the war in Iraq.
Although events can cause sharp spikes or drops on any given day, a comparison of the average shares of cable-news total-day audience from March 19 through April 8 to the first quarter through March 18 show that CNN and MSNBC picked up several share points, while Fox News Channel dropped a few and CNN Headline News lost almost half its share of the audience. The comparison is based on data from Nielsen Media Research.
Fox was averaging an impressive 45 share of the cable news audience as measured by household ratings and within the target 25 to 54 demo for the first quarter before the war. It was averaging a 42 share in households and a 40 share in the 25 to 54 demo over the first three weeks of the war.
CNN increased from first-quarter averages of a 27 household share and a 30 demo share to 34 and 35 shares in the respective categories over the 21 days of war.
MSNBC grew from first-quarter averages of a 14 household share and 16 demo share to 18 and 19 shares, respectively, since the war started.
CNN Headline News, on the other hand, averaged an 11 household share and a 13 demo share over the first quarter. Those shares dropped to 10 and 11, respectively, on days 1 and 2 of the war, when Headline was carrying CNN’s signal, and to an average 6 share in both household and demo for the 21 days.
For Fox these numbers are no reason to fear losing the bulk-viewing and key-demo crowns.
But for the two networks that are attempting to redefine themselves even as they cover the war, CNN, once the most-watched news network, and MSNBC, perpetually the also-ran, the share growth is an invitation to hope that they emerge from the war with improved numbers.
“It suggests where people who have increased interest in these news events are going,” said Turner Broadcasting Research chief Jack Wakshlag.
To be able to lay claim to a bigger piece of the cable news pie when the numbers of homes and people tuning in have subsided is a good thing, even if it does not translate directly into higher commercial fees, especially at MSNBC, where gaining market share has been a goal.
“Obviously, if we improve enough, one day we’ll pass somebody,” said MSNBC President Erik Sorenson, who has been focused on improving market share for more than a year.
A Fox News spokesman declined to comment.
Ratings for the week ending April 6 indicate interest in war coverage is waning, though for cable news networks viewership remains higher than it was a year ago.
Fox was the most-watched cable channel for the week, with an average of 3.126 million viewers for total day, up 325 percent from the comparable week in 2002.
CNN ranked No. 2 for the week with an average 2.421 million viewers, up 323 percent from a year ago.
MSNBC ranked No. 4 for the week with an average 1.275 million viewers, up 315 percent from a year ago.
(Breaking the all-news gridlock at the top: Nickelodeon, which ranked third for the week with an average 1.745 million viewers, down 6 percent from the comparable week in 2002.)
Only the three major cable news networks were able to point to across-the-board viewing spikes.
For broadcast news organizations, the results were more spotty the week ending April 6, the first relatively normal broadcast schedule in nearly two weeks.
Viewership for ABC’s Nightline, for example, was up 22 percent compared with the same week a year ago to an average of 6.130 million viewers, who watched anchor Ted Koppel in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.