CNN Ratings Surge as Ferguson Verdict and Unrest Drive Viewers to Cable News

Ferguson Protests November - H 2014
AP Photo/David Goldman

In a sour reminder of August's well-documented unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Monday night's news that a grand jury voted not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown brought more protests, and a familiar show of force from the National Guard in response.

Many TV networks chimed in, with some broadcast networks interrupting primetime with President Obama's remarks on the matter and each of the cable news outlets covering it well into the night. Some segments from the center of the embattled town even got too close, with CNN's Sara Sidner being hit with a rock on air.

Audiences anxiously tuned in en masse. And while Fox News Channel maintained a total viewers advantage (albeit narrowly) over a surging CNN, it was the Turner-owned network that dominated in the adults 25-54 demographic and that saw the most substantial growth during the night. (MSNBC, which benefits little from breaking news coverage, remained firmly in third place with little improvement from a typical Monday.)

Ratings hit a natural peak during the 9 p.m. ET hour, when the verdict was announced from St. Louis. That's when CNN hit 3.15 million viewers in the news demo — with a total 6.25 million viewers. FNC, which averaged 2.18 million adults 25-54, had the night's peak audience with an average 7.25 million tuning in.

Nightly averages for all of primetime, 8-11 p.m. ET, easily blow past the gross returns that we saw just a few weeks ago on election night. FNC (5.56 million) and CNN (5.08 million) were a close No. 1 and No. 2 with total viewers, while MSNBC trailed with 1.62 million. In the demo, CNN surged to No. 1 with 2.63 million viewers. That's compared to 1.65 million adults 25-54 on Fox and just 544,000 on MSNBC.

Though it's unlikely numbers like these will be duplicated tonight, attention is not turning away from Ferguson. Cable news networks are still covering the fallout of the verdict, and ABC News premieres George Stephanopoulos' Tuesday sit-down with Wilson on tonight's World News.