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TV Ratings: Cable News Rankings Shuffle in April as MSNBC Loses Demo to HLN

UPDATED: The four networks see movement as marathon bombing boosts Jeff Zucker's evolving CNN to number two just a year after record lows and Fox News Channel is topped by only USA in all of cable.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at a press conference

April brought a few dramatic shifts in ratings and rankings for cable news. Due in no small part to the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon and the week of wall-to-wall coverage that ensued, Nielsen returns give CNN triple-digit growth from its struggling performance just a year ago while Fox News Channel maintained its top ranking and, perhaps most interesting of all, MSNBC fell below CNN and HLN in the demo for total day.

Among CNN's strong stats (an average 638,000 total day viewers with 228,000 adults 25-54 and 918,000 primetime viewers with 338,000 adults 25-54), the biggest gains came in primetime with the key demo. Boosts for Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan in the primetime block saw a 127 percent jump with adults 25-54 over last April when the network kicked off a historic low quarter. CNN joined HLN as the only network to grow its primetime demo, year over year.  

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All networks saw their strongest showings since highs reached in November with the presidential election. That was the last month FNC ranked second in primetime for an entire month in all of cable, a feat it duplicated in April with its dominant 2,016,000 total viewers getting topped by only perennial victor USA. The last time the network held the ranking for reasons other than political coverage was in March 2011 with coverage of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

MSNBC, which saw year-to-year dips in primetime in both total viewers and the key demo, fell behind HLN with adults 25-54 for total day rankings. Though winning by just 3,000 (142,000 over 139,000), HLN owes much of the growth (43 percent, year over year) to its continued coverage of the Jodi Arias trial. Interest in the Arizona murder case has seen key victories for the typically fourth place net since wall-to-wall coverage began in January. MSNBC maintained its advantage and third place status in all other respects, including total viewers for the day, with 407,000 over HLN's 390,000.

April also ended with a notable weekend boost for CNN, FNC and MSNBC. Coverage of the annual White House Correspondents' dinner, which only recently expanded to other nets after years on C-SPAN, brought in strong returns for a Saturday night. The two-hour block which saw President Barack Obama and host Conan O’Brien speak saw 1.49 million for CNN, 1.11 million for FNC and 640,000 for MSNBC. (Nielsen does not rate C-SPAN.)

Read complete primetime and total day ratings, and changes from April 2012, below:

Primetime
FNC: 2,016,000 total viewers, up 9 percent) (389,000 adults 25-54, down 2 percent)
CNN: 918,000 total viewers, up 81 percent; (338,000 adults 25-54, up 127 percent)
MSNBC: 682,000 total viewers, down 10 percent; (234,000 adults 25-54, down 1 percent)
HLN: 524,000 total viewers, up 40 percent; (177,000 adults 25-54, up 37 percent)

Total Day
FNC: 1,233,000 total viewers, up 14 percent (278,000 adults 25-54, up 2 percent)
CNN: 638,000 total viewers, up 79 percent (228,000 adults 25-54, up 111 percent)
MSNBC: 406,000 total viewers, down 4 percent (139,000 adults 25-54, up 1 percent)
HLN: 390,000 total viewers, up 52 percent; (142k,000 adults 25-54, up 43 percent)