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Ratings Good News for Fox News, NBC

The ongoing and increasingly pitched battle between Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic nominee, according to media pundits, and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) continued to drive viewers to cable news for the just-concluded May ratings period.

CNN posted a gain of 58% compared with May 2007, while MSNBC, the third-place cable-news network, was up 46% and Fox News Channel, still the top-rated cable-news network, was up 19% year-to-year.

Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor remains the top-rated cable-news program, averaging 2.49 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research live-plus-same-day data.

At 7 p.m., MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews posted a 138% gain, edging out CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight in news’ 25-54 sales demographic (278,000 versus 248,000). Fox Report with Shepard Smith, as usual, led in the 7 p.m. hour, averaging 318,000 viewers.

At 8 p.m., CNN’s Campbell Brown-hosted Election Center drew 274,000 in the demo and 857,000 total viewers while growing CNN’s 8 p.m. hour 100% versus May 2007, but nevertheless ranked third behind Countdown with Keith Olbermann (417,000 in the demo, 1.1 million total viewers) and perennial time-slot leader O’Reilly (539,000 in the demo, 2.5 million total viewers).

CNN was touting a win in for the 10 p.m. hour of Anderson Cooper 360. AC360, which was buoyed by three primaries in May, averaged 339,000 viewers in the demo, a 51% jump compared with May 2007. Fox News’ On the Record with Greta van Susteren averaged 317,000 in the demo. But unlike AC360, On the Record is pre-empted during primary coverage. On the Record prevailed over AC360 in total viewers with 1.31 million compared with 1.05 million. Subtracting the West Virginia primary May 13 and the Kentucky and Oregon primaries May 20, Van Susteren edged out AC360 by 13,000 viewers.

For the month, Fox News was ranked sixth among basic-cable networks, while CNN came in at No. 19 and MSNBC ranked 26th.

On the broadcast side, NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams edged out ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson for the May sweeps period (April 24-May 21) in total viewers (8 million versus 7.96 million) and the demo (2.46 million versus 2.41 million). It was World News’ best May sweeps performance in three years and marked the smallest gap between Nightly and World News since 1999.

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric averaged 5.62 million total viewers and 1.7 million in the demo.