Malaysia Airlines Flight Prompts Ratings Rise for Some -- Despite Few Developments

Malaysia Plane with Silhouette - H 2014
AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin, File

Malaysia Plane with Silhouette - H 2014

It's been 10 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing -- and though the search has produced little news of consequence, it remains the top story for most TV news outlets.

CNN, which historically sees ratings lifts with wall-to-wall coverage of such running stories, has devoted the most airtime. The network surged to second place for the week of March 10 -- in total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demographic, in both total day and primetime -- rising a robust 109 percent in the key demo from the same week last year.

Leader Fox News Channel was up as well, though by more humble percentages, maintaining an easy advantage in total day and primetime. MSNBC, devoting the least airtime of the three, seems to have suffered for its editorial decision. The network fell to third place for the week, dropping 13 percent in primetime, as much airtime is still devoted to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and “Bridgegate."

Finding new ways to approach Flight 370 is not easy. Booked experts can offer little more than speculation as the search generates few leads. CNN was ribbed on Twitter over the weekend when anchors used toy plane models to analyze the situation. And one of the go-to talking heads, former National Transportation Safety Board investigator Greg Feith, is approaching meme status with his colorful selection of neckties. 

This blanketed coverage has hardly been limited to the cable.

Among the three broadcast networks with nightly news broadcasts (ABC, CBS and NBC), each chose Flight 370 as its lead story every weeknight. That's 15 out of 15 telecasts. "Such weeklong unanimity is extremely unusual," says independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall, "especially in the face of a legitimately important competing story, the crisis in Ukraine."

Indeed, there is no shortage of breaking news this March. On top of the mounting crisis in Ukraine, Russian intervention and the ensuing international response, the deadly gas explosion in East Harlem and a drunk-driving rampage at Austin's South by Southwest festival have been substantial domestic stories.