Cable News Ratings: MH17, Gaza Invasion Coverage Boost CNN, Fox News, But Primetime Still Sluggish

CNN
CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting, will be cutting hundreds of jobs as it tries to cut costs.

Much to the dismay of its many detractors, Fox News is still the dominant player in primetime cable news. And a couple of major news events last week didn’t do much to help CNN gain traction.  

Compared with the same period last year, average prime-time viewership was down for CNN -- but up for Fox News -- for the week ending July 20, according to figures provided by Nielsen Media. CNN’s decline comes despite a frantic late-week news cycle that included the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 disaster and the ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces. Both news events broke Thursday, and all the cable news networks heavily covered new developments in the following days.

Both CNN and Fox saw a significant ratings bump Thursday and Friday, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the week for CNN. The network attracted an average of 606,000 prime-time viewers from Monday through Sunday, a decline of 8 percent compared with the 659,000 it attracted a year ago. It was an even gloomier story at CNN’s farther-to-the-left rival, MSNBC, whose average prime-time viewers fell 7.6 percent to 563,000.

As usual, Fox News attracted far more prime-time viewers than its competitors, but it also managed to beat its own numbers from last year. The network’s average primetime viewers jumped 14 percent to 1.9 million for the week. Fox News primetime also dominated in the key 25-54 age demographic, attracting an average of 321,000 weekly viewers, compared to 207,000 for CNN and 154,000 for MSNBC.  

July is typically a quiet period for news outlets. Notable news events this time last year included a major heat wave that brought sweltering temperatures across much of the United States.

CNN has struggled with baseline ratings for several years, but it often thrives during times of crisis, such as last year’s Boston Marathon bombing. Although it earned much derision during its obsessive coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 earlier this year, it also saw a ratings boost during that period. This time around it has shown more restraint. It has heavily covered the plane crash in Eastern Ukraine, but it is also dedicating much airtime time to the crisis in Gaza.

As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, Fox News has been the most-watched cable news network for the past 150 consecutive months. CNN’s president, Jeff Zucker, has done much tinkering over the last 1 1/2 years in his attempt to narrow Fox’s lead. Those chances include making significant tweaks to its prime-time lineup and bringing on non-news programming like “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” and the documentary miniseries “The Sixties,” the latter of which has been credited with attracting much-needed younger viewers.

CNN is part of the Turner Broadcasting System, a unit of Time Warner Inc. (NASDAQ:NYSE). Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) and MSNBC is part of Comcast’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBCUniversal.

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