George Zimmerman Trial Appears To Boost Ratings of CNN, MSNBC, HLN

By Alex Weprin 

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For the last few days, cable news channels have been covering the trial of George Zimmerman. The most dramatc and newsworthy moment so far has definitely been the testimony of Trayvon Martin‘s friend and the prosecution’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel, who was on the stand Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

While the cable news channels have been criticized for spending so much time with live coverage from the courtroom, it appears to be paying off for higher ratings, at least for MSNBC, HLN and, to a slightly lesser extent, CNN.

Let’s get this out of the way first: HLN, which always does well when there is a trial, is seeing strong–although not quite Jodi Arias trial level– ratings, and Fox News, which is the dominant general cable news channel, is still the ratings leader.

Jeantel was on the stand Wednesday afternoon (the ratings for which are here) and Thursday morning, during the 9 AM-1 PM hours. With the exception of HLN, no channel covered the entirety of the proceedings, but rather dipped in and out through those hours… although most of the time seemed dedicated to the trial.

Below are the ratings for Thursday morning.

Fox News
9AM: 259K A25-54 / 1.216M total viewers
10AM: 235K A25-54 / 1.050M total viewers
11AM: 242K A25-54 / 977K total viewers
12PM: 181K A25-54 / 1.003M total viewers

9AM: 239K A25-54 / 842K total viewers
10AM: 345K A25-54 / 1.007M total viewers
11AM: 348K A25-54 / 996K total viewers
12PM: 354K A25-54 / 912K total viewers

9AM: 156K A25-54 / 435K total viewers
10AM: 168K A25-54 / 580K total viewers
11AM: 196K A25-54 / 686K total viewers
12Pm: 165K A25-54 / 731K total viewers

9AM: 129K A25-54 / 346K total viewers
10AM: 125K A25-54 / 344K total viewers
11AM: 113K A25-54 / 401K total viewers
12PM: 150K A25-54 / 447K total viewers

Fox News led the way in total viewers, while HLN was tops in the adults 25-54 demo.

Compared to the same day a year ago, and the same day from last Thursday (neither day was particularly notable in terms of big stories), HLN and MSNBC are up each hour in both total and demo viewers. CNN is generally up in total viewers, but mixed in the demo compared to both last week and last year. Fox News was either flat or down in both demo and total viewers compared to both last year and last week, with the exception of 12PM in total viewers compared to last week, which was up.

The takeaways: the biggest beneficiaries of the Zimmerman trial coverage seem to be HLN and MSNBC, which are seeing higher ratings than typical during the hours for which it has covered the trial live. CNN has seen some hours do very well covering the trial (particularly in total viewers), and others where it has not. Fox News hasn’t really seen a ratings spike from covering the trial, although it remains the clear ratings leader overall.

As for primetime coverage: every program from 8-11PM was flat or down compared to last year in both total and demo viewers with the exception of MSNBC’s “All In” at 8PM, which covered the trial less than many other cable news programs.

It may have been the witness, and viewers may get trial fatigue down the line, but for now at least, covering the trial live seems to be drawing more people to cable news than it is turning people off.