in on Fox News
Rupe network #s in faster slide. Is it just too heavy?
By Kevin Downey
In the early days of the war, CNN was expected to jump out ahead of Fox News, and to the surprise of many it did not.
But now all-news cable viewership is beginning to flag, and as this happens CNN may well be in a position to regain its ranking as the No. 1 cable news network.
CNN is narrowing the gap with Fox News, and it could well pass it.
If it does, it would raise an interesting issue: whether, as Americans tire of so much wall-to-wall war coverage, they are also tiring of Fox News' in-your-face, news-with-an-edge in favor of CNN's straight news format.
Here's a look at the numbers:
Fox News has been the highest-rated cable network for the past two weeks, yet its audience among adults 25-54 was 1.4 million last week, down 12 percent from a week earlier.
For the same period, CNN’s audience was 1.3 million, down 10 percent. The networks ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on an all-day basis, respectively, based on Nielsen ratings released yesterday.
While Fox News had a 12.2 percent lead over CNN in the demo two weeks ago, which included ratings for President Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and the first days of the war, that lead was down to 10 percent last week.
Among men 25-54, who account for roughly one-third of the cable news networks’ audiences, Fox News had an even more pronounced drop compared to CNN. Fox News’ audience fell 10 percent from a week earlier, to 856,000 men 25-54 in the week ending March 30, while CNN’s audience fell 6.5 percent, to 768,000.
“Fox News does that thing it does and managed to get on top doing it,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
“It may be that its distinct personality may be a little too much to take in larger doses, though, where CNN may be easier to take since it has more straight news.”
CNN’s audience falloff in primetime is even less pronounced than the falloff for Fox News, which accounted for five of the six most-watched shows on cable last week with “The O’Reilly Factor.”
CNN’s men 25-54 audience in primetime was down less than 2 percent last week, to 1.13 million from 1.15 a week earlier. Fox News’ audience was down 20 percent, to 1.2 million from 1.5 million, while third-ranked MSNBC’s audience was down 4 percent, to 691,000 from 722,000 the previous week.
Moreover, while each of the cable news networks is getting a significant boost compared to last year at this time because of the war coverage, CNN and MSNBC’s audiences are up more than Fox News’ on that measure.
CNN’s adult 25-54 audience last week was up 510 percent and MSNBC’s was up 570 percent compared to the same week last year, while Fox News’ audience was up 321 percent.
In the men 25-54 demographic, CNN’s audience was up 547 percent and MSNBC’s was up 598 percent, compared to Fox News’ 313 percent.
“There are a number of elements here,” says Thompson.
“One is how long the shelf life of the Fox audience is, and the second is about public opinion. As long as it stays where it is, Fox will do well. But if the war goes on and on and public opinion changes, the question will be whether Fox changes along with it.”
CNN’s improved standing probably has a lot more to do with having a loyal following than any changes it’s making to its lineup of anchors.
Aaron Brown will continue doing his four-hour nightly “NewsNight” while giving up hosting in the afternoon as of yesterday. Paula Zahn, who hosts CNN’s “American Morning,” will now also co-host two hours of primetime.
CNN canceled “Connie Chung Tonight” last week.
“I’m not sure the changes CNN has made could have been enough for the audience to change so quickly,” says Thompson.
“You can see as this goes on that everybody is figuring out as they go along how to cover a war in the 21st century.”
April 2, 2003© 2003 Media Life
-Kevin Downey is a staff writer for Media Life.