Michael Jackson drives ratings

Singer's death drives viewers to BET, news nets

The cable news networks touted record ratings as the second quarter came to a close, with Fox News leading the pack and MSNBC posting its first win in some key measurements over CNN.

Fox News placed first in primetime (2.1 million viewers), up 34% from the year-ago quarter and on track for its most-watched year, compared with CNN (862,000, down 10%) and MSNBC (790,000, up 15%). Fox News also touted sporting all of the top 10 news programs in total viewers for the first time.

Although down in primetime, CNN had its best Q2 in years and was aided by its coverage of Michael Jackson's death. The network had its most-watched June among total viewers for total day. Sister network HLN had its best quarter (303,000, up 19%) in top measurements.

MSNBC pulled more viewers and adults 25-54 than CNN in primetime on weeknights, something the network had never done before. MSNBC averaged 946,000 such viewers, compared with CNN's 939,000.

Among entertainment networks, the quarter ended with what's expected to be the most-watched cable program of the year: Sunday night's BET Awards, which hastily revamped its production into a Jackson tribute.

The BET Awards were seen by 10.7 million viewers, edging out TLC's recent "Jon & Kate Plus 8" breakup episode based on live-plus-same-day viewing. BET also was the quarter's biggest ratings gainer, up 44% in total viewers.

In the top spots, USA held off rival TNT to win the second-quarter ratings crown, averaging 1.37 million adults 18-49, a 9% increase from its Q2 delivery a year ago. USA preserved a 3.4% margin of victory in the demo.

In total primetime viewers, USA cruised to an easy victory, averaging 3.17 million, a 15% year-over-year increase. USA's Q2 delivery topped TNT's 2.64 million viewers by 20%.

USA also glided to victory among adults 25-54, averaging 1.47 million viewers, a 15% improvement compared with a year ago.

For the quarter, USA posted its best program delivery with the season premiere of "Burn Notice," which drew 7.5 million viewers upon the addition of seven days of DVR viewing.

In addition to its three second-place finishes, TNT won the adults 18-34 demo outright, averaging 645,000 viewers, an 11% increase from last year.

TNT enjoyed a huge ratings burst thanks to its NBA postseason coverage, which accounted for seven of the quarter's top 20 most-watched programs on cable.

TNT also continued to draw a crowd with its original drama franchise "The Closer." The Season 5 premiere June 8 stands as cable's most-watched scripted series telecast of the year, averaging 8.45 million viewers, up 18% from the original live-plus-same-day reckoning (7.14 million).

James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles. Anthony Crupi, senior editor at Mediaweek, reported from New York.