Cable news channels were a significant destination for viewers interested in getting the latest on the shootings in Colorado on Friday, according to Nielsen ratings from that day.
The news of the shooting broke on TV between 4 AM and 6 AM, with Fox News averaging 445,000 viewers, CNN averaging 102,000 and MSNBC averaging 151,000 viewers from 4-5, and FNC averaging 605,000, CNN averaging 145,000 and MSNBC averaging 205,000 between 5-6. CNN, MSNBC and FNC now all have live programming in the 5-6AM hour, and all were up over a typical Friday.
From 6-9 AM, FNC averaged 1.34 million viewers, CNN averaged 466,000 viewers and MSNBC averaged 450,000 viewers. All three programs were up substantially from a typical morning, though it looks as though–as one would expect–most people were watching the news on NBC, ABC and CBS, rather than on cable.
During the day the cable networks peaked from 1-4PM, as new information continued to come in. FNC averaged 1.58 and 1.62 million viewers from 1-2 and 2-3 PM, respectively. CNN averaged 1.03 and 1.00 million viewers from 2-3 and 3-4 PM, respectively, and MSNBC averaged 424,000 and 459,000 viewers at 1-2PM and 2-3 PM, respectively. MSNBC and FNC were up low double digits compared to a typical Friday, while CNN was up over 100%.
As usual, primetime was when the most viewers tuned in. You can see the raw numbers in The Scoreboard here, but FNC peaked with “The O’Reilly Factor” at 8 PM, CNN peaked with “Piers Morgan Tonight” at 9 PM, and MSNBC peaked with “Hardball” at 7 PM.
Fox News continues to prove that it is very formidable when news breaks. The channel focused on reporting during the day, and was able to not only hold on to its audience, but grow it. That said, many FNC programs were only up slightly from a typical Friday. While that shows a remarkable consistency and loyalty in its viewing audience, it also implies that it is not necessarily attracting new eyeballs.
CNN, as usual, shines when there is breaking news. As we have noted before, CNN remains the default TV news channel for many people who are not regular cable news watchers. When something newsworthy happens–like the awful shooting–CNN is still the first place many people turn to. The network was up more than 100% across the board, particularly in primetime.
While MSNBC’s ratings were up in the morning and early afternoon, as news was breaking, it was down double digits in primetime, indicating that viewers were choosing to get their news from one of the other channels. While it is easy to blame politics-centric news on a day when politics was not the story, the bottom line is that MSNBC was able to leverage its relationship with NBC News to cover the event. Unfortunately for MSNBC, it does not have the “breaking news” brand that CNN does, or the ability to retain viewership that Fox News has proven.
Ultimately, while a handful of segments (particularly on gun control) drew scrutiny from some viewers, all three channels provided mostly quality coverage. FNC, CNN,. MSNBC and HLN averaged over three million viewers from 6AM-2AM, and when you consider that most people tune in for a few minutes during the day, it is safe to say that cable news was a primary news source for 10s of millions of Americans Friday.