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Primetime Cable News Networks Drawing Older Audiences

A look at the Nielsen ratings from mid-June 2011 to mid-June
2012 shows that the four major primetime cable news networks -- Fox News
Channel, MSNBC, CNN and HLN -- cumulatively averaged about 12 million viewers in
primetime, down about 7% from the same period the previous year.

Fox News Channel was still the top dog, averaging about 6.4
million viewers, more than the other three networks combined. MSNBC averaged
2.6 million viewers, CNN averaged 1.6 million viewers and HLN averaged 1.3
million viewers.

Looking at the numbers, some specific network-by-network
data can be isolated:

  • Between 70%-80% of every show's audience is 55 years or
    older, and the median age audience for almost every show is close to 65.
  • Of The O'Reilly Factor's 2.8 million nightly viewers from 8-9 p.m., 2.2
    million of them are 55-plus. Among Hannity's 2 million nightly viewers,
    1.5 million of them are 55-plus. And among the 1.6 million On the Record
    with Greta Van Susteren
    viewers, 1.2 million of them are 55-plus.
  • While the total number of viewers is lower for the other networks, the
    percentages are similar. Among Piers Morgan Tonight's 550,000 viewers,
    364,000 are 55-plus; among Anderson Cooper 360's 594,000 viewers, 363,000 are 55-plus; among Last Word with
    Larry O'Donnell's
    855,000 viewers, 617,000 are 55-plus; among The Rachel Maddow Show's 949,000 viewers,
    659,000 are 55-plus; and among Nancy Grace's
    503,000 viewers, 323,000 are 55-plus.
  • The three Fox News Channel shows, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and On
    the Record with Greta Van Susteren
    , are the only ones that draw more than a
    million viewers per night, drawing 2.8 million, 2 million and 1.6 million viewers,
  • Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN has averaged only 15,000 fewer viewers per
    night than its predecessor Larry King Live -- 550,000 per night compared
    to 565,000 for King.
  • CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 at 10 p.m. is slipping. Its viewership is down
    17% over the past year, falling to 594,000 per night from 729,000 viewers.
  • The Rachel Maddow Show is tops at MSNBC, averaging 949,000 viewers per
  • Before HLN canceled the show in December 2011, The Joy Behar Show was averaging 422,000 viewers, up 50,000 over the
    previous year.
  • MSNBC swapping the time periods of Last Word with Larry O'Donnell, which
    previously aired at 8 p.m., and The Ed Show, which previously aired at 10 p.m., did nothing to improve
    their respective viewership. O'Donnell's
    viewership is down about 80,000 per night, while The Ed Show's viewership is down about 20,000. And both shows have
    seen the median age of their audiences go up about two years.
  • The three CNN news shows from 8-11 p.m. cumulatively have lost about 250,000
    viewers from about 1.9 million per night to 1.65 million viewers per night,
    about an 18% decline over the past year. The three Fox News Channel shows cumulatively
    have lost 400,000 viewers from 6.8 million to 6.4 million, down about 6%. The
    MSNBC shows cumulatively have lost about 140,000 viewers, down about 5%. HLN
    has lost about 60,000 viewers, a decline of less than 1%. But clearly Fox News
    Channel is still drawing such a mass audience that its decline in viewership
    matters much less to it than the declines by the other networks.
  • None of the cable news networks in primetime have seen much of a major boost in
    ratings from the presidential campaigns thus far, although that could change
    following the conventions when the VP candidates are chosen and the
    back-and-forth intensifies as November approaches. But through June, the
    election has not been of much help in drawing more viewers.

"I think for a political season, cable ratings have been
surprisingly sluggish," says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon
Media. "This is one of the few times that the cable networks know a big
event is coming and can plan for it with programming and yet viewers seem to be
going elsewhere."

In fact, on July 18, Fox News Channel got a boost in
viewership, not from a presidential candidate appearing, but for an exclusive
interview Sean Hannity conducted with George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch
guy charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin in
Florida in February 2012.