Year End Cable News Ratings: MSNBC, CNN Up in Primetime while Fox News Takes a Loss


It was another newsy year. The Arab Spring swept out dictators from Libya to Egypt. A magnitude 9 earthquake killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Japan and spurred a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant. And Navy Seal Team 6 took out Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.

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CNN and MSNBC saw gains in 2011. But as the Republican field gears up for its first primary in Iowa on Jan. 3, Fox News Channel’s conservative primetime hosts shed viewers in 2011.

Though still the top-rated cable news network and beating both CNN and MSNBC combined, FNC is nevertheless down 9 percent in primetime for the year averaging 2.2 million viewers (M-F, 8-11 p.m. through Dec. 15). And the network is down15 percent among news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds (averaging 522,000).

Meanwhile MSNBC bested CNN in primetime in demo (251,000 versus 238,000) for the third consecutive year. MSNBC also beat CNN among total viewers (902,000 versus 735,000) for the second year in a row.

In primetime, CNN is up 29 percent in the demo and 16 percent among total viewers compared to the nadir of 2010, while MSNBC is up 4 percent in total viewers and essentially flat (up 2 percent) in the demo.

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CNN did top MSNBC in total day (6 a.m.-6 a.m.) in the demo (163,000 versus 149,000) and total viewers (485,000 versus 437,000). CNN was up 22 percent year-over-year in the demo in total day, while MSNBC was up 5 percent and FNC was down 9 percent (to 277,000).

Anderson Cooper 360 – which moved to 8 p.m. in August – has improved CNN’s performance in the lead off position, posting double-digit gains among total viewers and the demo. But MSNBC still topped CNN at 8 p.m. among total viewers (925,000 versus 598,000) and the demo (222,000 versus 185,000) with The Ed Show (which currently airs at 8) and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (which aired there for most of the year).

At 9 p.m. The Rachel Maddow Show continues to beat Piers Morgan Tonight, which launched Jan. 17. Maddow pulled in 288,000 viewers in the demo, up 12 percent, and 1 million total viewers, a gain of 4 percent. But Morgan has improved the time slot compared to his predecessor Larry King; he's up 26 percent in the demo (to 222,000) and 9 percent in total viewers (735,000).

CNN did finish the year ahead of MSNBC at 10 p.m. in the demo (283,000 versus 237,000). But MSNBC topped CNN in total viewers (849,000 versus 776,000). AC360 also airs at 10 p.m. against The Last Word, though The Ed Show spent most of the year at 10 p.m.

And Morning Joe topped CNN’s American Morning in the demo (148,000 versus 125,000) and total viewers (449,000 versus 239,000). It was a high-ratings year for the MSNBC program co-hosted by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, which was up 24 percent in the demo year-over-year. CNN is scheduled to re-launch its morning program with Soledad O’Brien in 2012 though the network has yet to announced a premiere date. 


Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie