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As soon as the white smoke started wafting out of the Sistine Chapel chimney Wednesday afternoon, viewers turned on their television sets and navigated to cable news.
All four networks saw spikes from typical afternoon coverage, with the biggest boosts coming between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. ET. as Pope Francis appeared before the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Anchored by Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel led the pack with 2.23 million viewers in the time period (including 443,000 adults 25-54). CNN followed with 1.49 million viewers (420,000 adults 25-54), trailed by HLN’s 913,000 viewers (315,000 adults 25-54) and MSNBC with 597,000 viewers (142,000 adults 25-54).
Viewership tapered after newly minted pontiff bid everyone a good night, but total-day hauls and primetime returns saw differing boosts from pope coverage.
As is usual with big events, CNN saw a roughly 50 percent jump in total viewers compared with the previous Wednesday, rising to 573,000 in total day and 767,000 in primetime.
Fox News Channel, still leading the pack in all measures, did not match CNN’s growth as the pope story continued to unfold later in the day but averaged a dominant 2.29 million viewers in primetime, with 353,000 of them adults 25-54.
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