Hurricane Katrina coverage helped boost ratings at the four cable news channels in the third quarter (which ended September 25), with CNN and MSNBC posting their best viewership levels since the Iraq war started in the second quarter of 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research data issued Tuesday.
Fox News, which was already having a standout summer, jumped 31 percent over the year-ago period in total day to 1.2 million viewers and 29 percent in primetime to 2.3 million viewers, Nielsen said.
CNN averaged 693,000 viewers in total day (up 39 percent) and 1.1 million in primetime (up 29 percent). MSNBC averaged 300,000 viewers in total day (up 11 percent) and 471,000 in primetime (up 12 percent).
It was a split decision for MSNBC, which has been suffering under an assault from the newly rejuvenated Headline News primetime lineup, particularly Nancy Grace. MSNBC reclaimed third place in cable news in total day but yielded to Headline News in primetime due to Nancy Grace. Headline News averaged 267,000 viewers in total day (up 32 percent) and had 471,000 viewers in primetime (up 108 percent).
CNN said the demo gap between itself and top-rated Fox was the lowest it had been in years, with only 19 percent separating them in adults 25-54. Fox News said it was only in September.
The busy September helped push the ratings upward for many cable news shows, particularly in primetime during the quarter. Fox's The O'Reilly Factor averaged 2.8 million viewers to be the most-watched show in cable news; CNN's On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, which was in third place in total viewers with 2.4 million, edged out O'Reilly's show in adults 25-54 with 770,000 viewers to O'Reilly's 716,000. Hannity and Colmes, the Fox News show between the two in primetime and the rankings, averaged 2.4 million viewers and 717,000 in adults 25-54.
CNN's top-rated show was Larry King Live, with 1.5 million viewers; four CNN shows cracked 1 million viewers or more, including Newsnight with Aaron Brown, Paula Zahn Now, and The Situation Room. Fox News had 11 shows that had an average of more than 1 million viewers.
The Situation Room, launched in early August, was a good story for CNN. It averaged more than 1 million viewers in the time period during the quarter, improving itself in the time period by about 100 percent for all three hours. It remained in second place to Fox News shows in all three hours but in the 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. hours, and it beat Fox in the adults 25-54 demo for the third quarter.