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Cable News Ratings: Fox News Remains Dominant

CNN slipped to fourth in primetime at 7, 8 and 10 p.m. among cable news networks in the key sales demographic for the month of October, Nielsen data showed. The meager showing in primetime marks a decline of 78% in the demo compared to October 2008, when the election was juicing cable news numbers across the board.

October 2008 was a particularly strong month leading into last year's election. As such, all networks showed year-to-year declines in total viewers and news' target sales demographic of 25-54-year-olds. MSNBC is down 63% in the primetime demo while Fox News Channel was off 36% and HLN and CNBC were each down 29%. But CNN was also down 22% from its October 2007 prime demo average.

In primetime (Mon-Sun 8-11 p.m.), CNN averaged 664,000 viewers with 186,000 in the demo. That was just enough to edge out its cable sibling HLN in the demo (185,000). HLN also finished fourth in total viewers with 513,000. But for weekday prime, CNN was down to fourth in the demo (202,000 viewers) compared to perennial leader Fox News Channel (689,000), MSNBC (250,000) and HLN (221,000).

Fox News remained dominant across all day-parts. In primetime (Mon-Sun, 8-11 p.m.), Fox News averaged 2.1 million viewers with 560,000 in the demo. MSNBC was second with 699,000 viewers, 234,000 in the demo followed by CNN and HLN.

Fox News has also been aided by the White House’s strategy to de-legitimize the network. The administration’s battle with Fox News was the fifth most covered story for the week ended Oct. 25 accounting for 15% of the news hole, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism weekly coverage index. The economic crisis was first followed by Afghanistan, the health care debate and swine flu. The network is up 9% in total viewers and up 14% in the demo since the feud started three weeks ago.

Fox News also had all ten of the top-ten shows in cable news in both the demo and total viewers led by The O’Reilly Factor (3.3 million viewers, 875,000 in the demo), Glenn Beck (2.7 million viewers, 712,000 in the demo), Hannity (2.3 million, 659,000 in the demo) and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren (1.9 million, 533,000 in the demo).

MSNBC notched second place finishes in most of the key week-night prime-time hours. At 7 p.m., Hardball with Chris Matthews was second in the time slot averaging 649,000 viewers with 182,000 in the demo. HLN’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell out-rated CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight in the demo (168,000 to 163,000) while Dobbs prevailed among total viewers (631,000 to 462,000).

Fox Report with Shepard Smith was the most-watched program at 7 p.m. with 1.9 million viewers and 463,000 in the demo.

At 8 p.m., MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann bested HLN’s Nancy Grace, among total viewers (1 million to 830,000) and the demo (294,000 to 269,000), while CNN’s Campbell Brown was stuck in fourth among total viewers (648,000) and the demo (161,000).

The O’Reilly Factor was the top-rated cable news program in the 8 p.m. hour for the 107th consecutive month.

At 9 p.m., MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show bested CNN’s Larry King Live in total viewers (880,000 to 842,000) and the demo (246,000 to 224,000). That was enough for a third-place finish for LKL against HLN’s newest entry, The Joy Behar Show which averaged 535,000 total viewers and 183,000 in the demo. Fox News' Hannity was the top-rated program for the hour.

At 10 p.m., Anderson Cooper 360 dropped to fourth in the demo (210,000) against reruns of Nancy Grace (222,000) and Countdown (218,000).