MSNBC makes double-digit viewer gains

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NEW YORK -- Things are looking up at MSNBC, with the channel registering double-digit gains in viewers and adults 25-54 for October while Fox News Channel led all news networks for the 250th straight week.

Leading the charge was "Countdown With Keith Olbermann," which jumped 67% in viewership and 61% in the adults 25-54 demographic compared with October 2005. "Countdown" averaged 637,000 viewers (including 233,000 in the demo) for the month, according to data released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research. It's nowhere near "The O'Reilly Factor" (which led all of cable with 2.1 million viewers) but it beat CNN's "Paula Zahn Now" in the demo and narrowly missed tying it in viewership.

"Keith Olbermann is the right person at the right time, and doing it in the right way," MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams said.

MSNBC was up in viewers total day and primetime as well as in the demo in both total day and primetime. "Scarborough Country" remained behind Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" and CNN's "Larry King Live," but was up 13% in the demo. The 7 p.m. edition of "Hardball" was up 27% in adults 25-54 and up 5% in viewers. MSNBC's "Imus in the Morning" simulcast gained some ground on "American Morning," averaging 324,000 viewers last month compared with 425,000 for "American Morning."

MSNBC is in the best competitive position in total day since April 2003 in the opening weeks of the war in Iraq. Abrams said the strength was almost completely across the board -- praising Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews and Don Imus as well as Olbermann -- but he said he was also cautious.

"This is a really good sign for MSNBC on the whole. I think that we've found a voice to some degree," Abrams said. "We still have a ways to go. One month does not make ratings success, but this is certainly the right direction."

Fox News marked its 250th week atop the cable ratings the same month it celebrated its 10th anniversary. Fox News was down 17% in viewership total day compared with October 2005, with 786,000 viewers last month to 948,000 viewers a year ago. The channel was down 25% in primetime year to year, with 1.3 million viewers to last October's 1.7 million. It was down 9% in primetime in the adults 25-54 demo, 355,000 viewers to last October's 392,000.

But Fox still was on top by a comfortable margin in all measures, and with nine of the top 10 shows.

CNN also registered declines in viewership for total day and primetime, and was flat in the demo during primetime. CNN was down 8% to 490,000 in total day and down 13% to 720,000 in primetime. But it did see some success with its "Broken Government" series and a series of town-hall style meetings hosted by Lou Dobbs. The specials were up 31% in viewers and 51% in the demo compared with year-to-date averages for the programs they pre-empted, 7 p.m.'s "The Situation Room" and 8 p.m.'s "Paula Zahn Now."
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