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Cable keeps its newsies

Cable's news networks have been able to hang onto some of the Nielsen gains sparked by 9/11, and Fox News Channel is doing far better than its rivals.

Of course, no one expected networks to retain the initial spike. (CNN's 5.5 household rating for 9/11 was eight times its normal score.) For third quarter 2002, CNN's prime time rating was 0.8, down 33% from 1.2 in the same period last year, when heavy viewership from the final three weeks of September 2001 inflated the score. Top news net Fox News was flat at 1.1.

More interesting is data from the weeks before 9/11 of both years. Data crunched by Turner Broadcasting research chief Jack Wakshlag shows Fox News Channel up 25% to a 1.0 household rating in prime time, CNN up 15% to a 0.8, and MSNBC flat at a 0.4 despite this summer's high-profile launch of a prime time slate anchored by a nightly show featuring Phil Donahue.

When it comes to CNN's favorite demo, adults 25-54, Fox News soared 132%, in large part because more cable systems added the channel post-9/11. (Ratings are adjusted for increases in distribution; headcounts of demos aren't.) CNN is up 36%. But MSNBC is off 4%.

Lifetime was again the top cable network during the third quarter, its 2.1 household rating even with last year.