Fox Tops, Part Trois

The latest numbers are out. Here is our no-spin (more or less) analysis.

It's the worst time of the month for Fox-haters--the release of the latest monthly cable news ratings. There is no better summary of the numbers than TVNewser's program ranker.

The differences between August 2004 and 2005 are striking. Remember that cable news ratings for August 2004 were inflated due to convention coverage. So one would expect that this year's numbers would be lower. They were for CNN: down 11%. And MSNBC: down 27%. But Fox News actually improved on their high August ratings, up 14% from last year. And in primetime FNC was up 32%, nearly tripling CNN's audience. The gap between Fox and CNN has widened to a whopping 57%.

Fox News now has 11 of the top 12 programs on cable news (the one exception is Larry King). Every FNC program on the list is the highest rated news program in its timeslot, often by huge margins. Examples:

The O'Reilly Factor grew to 2,474,000 viewers in August, more than all of his competitors combined. Paula Zahn: 596,000; Nancy Grace: 597,000. Over at MSNBC Keith Olbermann and the Countdown to Oblivion has an audience of 278,000--Mr Bill, his bete noir, beats him by nine to one. How long will Rick Kaplan permit Olby, his lowest-rated primetime anchor, to drag his schedule into the swamp?

On the Record, with its 2,189,000 viewers, rules the 10:00 pm time slot. The closest competitor, Aaron "The Dentist" Brown on CNN, gets 678,000. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, who is allowing his program to become Greta-with-a-Tie, claims 361,000.

The Fox Report increased its dominance at 7:00 pm. Shep Smith's hourlong newscast, with 1,422,000 viewers, demolishes CNN's Cooper (529,000) and Chris Matthews's shoutfest on MSNBC (280,000).

Our favorite demonstration of why Fox is truly the most powerful name in news: the early-morning Fox & Friends. There are far fewer homes watching television in the wee hours, so it's even more amazing that Fox & Friends beats every program in every timeslot on MSNBC, Headline News, CNBC, and CNN (except for Larry King). In fact, the pre-show, Fox & Friends First, at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am (3:00 am Pacific), has more viewers than anything, at any hour, on MSNBC or CNBC.

As if all of this weren't enough trouble for the competition, the weekend hurricane coverage brings more bad omens for the Fox-haters. Big events draw extra viewers to the cable news stations, and traditionally the ratings bumps have disproportionately favored CNN. So even if Fox usually wins in this situation, the numbers have tended to tighten up, making the margin much closer.

No more. Inside Cable News reports that on Sunday FNC had over 4,000,000 viewers, beating CNN’s 2,279,000 viewers and MSNBC’s 1,021,000 viewers combined. And FNC was up 376% over the same day last year, more than any of the other news channels. If there had been a perception that Fox was just a "political" news network, or that CNN had some inherent advantage in covering breaking news, that perception no longer exists. Even casual viewers of cable news are turning to FNC when a big story hits.

How exactly Jon Klein and Rick Kaplan will try to reverse this trend remains to be seen. But it's clear that neither they, nor the haters, will be popping any champagne corks tonight.

posted: Tue - August 30, 2005 at 07:11 PM       j$p  send