George Zimmerman Verdict: Where Cable News Saw Its Biggest Gains

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George Zimmerman

A late-night verdict, exclusives with key players and wall-to-wall coverage (for some) bring in viewership highs and numbers far north of May's Jodi Arias trial.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine

Hitting ratings highs with the late-night July 13 verdict, the Big Four cable news networks more than justified their decisions to dedicate hours of airtime to the George Zimmerman trial and acquittal in the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin.

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CNN and HLN offered wall-to-wall coverage and saw the biggest percentage gains in total viewers and in the key 25-to-54 demo. HLN in particular, with the draw of host Nancy Grace whose seen previous ratings surges for coverage of Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony's murder trials, saw the greatest gains. The network, typically in last place, saw its total day viewership leap 80 percent from the year-to-date average in the final week of the trial. CNN saw a significant demo advantage with an average 393,000 adults 25 to 54. (That's 66 percent north of the 2013 average.)

Dominant Fox News, focusing on Egypt, the Asiana Airlines crash and other breaking news as well as Zimmerman, also was up by a small margin -- as was the politically focused MSNBC. FNC still brought in a dominant haul for both the final week (1.14 million viewers) and the night of the verdict (2.4 million viewers in primetime). MSNBC fell to fourth, behind HLN, a position it first dropped to in May during the Arias climax.

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Interest in the trial shows no sign of slowing. Monday gets such as Anderson Cooper’s juror interview and Piers Morgan’s sit-down with the prosecution’s star witness Rachel Jeantel continue to move the dial. CNN managed to top cable in the targeted demo -- and Morgan's exclusive reaped his best ratings ever, 678,000 viewers in the targeted demo.

Tuesday's coverage remained fixed on Zimmerman, especially on HLN and CNN, while shifting focus to mounting backlash to the verdict.