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Election, Hurricanes, Markets Boost Cable News in Q3

Presidential-election coverage (including the Democratic and Republican National Conventions); Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike; and the unexpected stock-market crash all brought in record numbers for the cable news networks in the third quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research’s live-plus-same-day metrics for the quarter.

Fox News Channel continued to lead the pack with 2.198 million viewers in primetime, including 554,000 in the 25-54 demo, and 1.123 million in total day, including 295,000 in the demo. Overall, it was the second-highest quarter ever for Fox News, behind only 2005, which saw Hurricane Katrina batter the Gulf Coast.

CNN saw the most growth of the big three in the 25-54 demo, finishing the quarter with an average of 1.342 million viewers in primetime, including 471,000 in the demo, and 713,000 in total day, including 249,000 in the demo. Overall, it was the network’s largest quarterly audience in five years, since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003.

While Fox News and CNN continued to lead the pack, MSNBC continued to post the fastest growth in primetime and total day. In primetime, MSNBC was up 81% over last year, thanks to breaking-news coverage and the debut of The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. The network averaged 867,000 in primetime, including 339,000 in the demo, and 473,000 in total day, including 191,000 in the demo.

CNBC, which airs most of its original programming during the business day, averaged 236,000 in total day, including 83,000 in the demo. Overall, it was the best Q3 for the business-news network since 2000, although that came at a cost, as the quarter has not been a good one for those on Wall Street, the audience CNBC appeals to most.

Fox Business is not yet rated by Nielsen, though given the numbers for the other networks, it likely saw gains as well.