Cablers Cover the Primaries, But Did Viewers Care?

By Alex Weprin 

Did you hear? Tuesday night was a big election night. 12 states had primary elections, and the cable news channels were practically falling over themselves to cover it. Even Fox Business Network covered the “business impact” of the elections for some reason.

The only major network to break away from politics and the elections for an extended period was CNN, which had “Larry King Live” focusing on the Joran Van Der Sloot arrest and had oil spill coverage in its other hours. CNN sister network HLN, which typically has apolitical fare, also ran its normal lineup.

While all of the networks covered other news during the night, politics was clearly the focus.

Clearly the cable news channels thought this was a big deal, but did the viewers?

Fox News won the election night in the 25-54 demo and total viewers, with MSNBC second in total viewers. HLN, which did not cover the primaries in any meaningful way, finished second in the demo for the night. CNN was fourth in both the demo and total viewers.

Ratings across all of the major cable news channels were essentially flat from the Tuesday the week before when there were no major primaries.

Not only that, but every Fox News and MSNBC primetime program, except for one, drew lower demo ratings on this “big” election night than it did the night before. The lone show to improve was “Hannity” at 9 p.m., which was up-barely-from 636,000 demo viewers Monday to 654,000 Tuesday.

CNN, which had less election coverage, was up across the board from Monday.

Last month the cablers also covered primary races, and saw a similar result.

It is no secret that the three major cable news channels have shifted their focus more to politics than non-political news in primetime.

If the ratings were any indication, viewers would rather watch the NBA Finals, or the “Glee” season finale than find out about primary news in a state they don’t live in. Even people in Washington D.C. were probably too busy watching Stephen Strasburg pitch to pay attention to what was on cable news.

So what should the takeaway be? Clearly cable news viewers care about politics, but an off-year primary election simply is not going to be a big draw. It should be covered (it is news after all), but perhaps other stories need to receive more prominent placement.