Annual Report: Cable News Ratings

It was a good year in primetime for everybody but CNN. On an annual basis, MSNBC was up 16 percent, Fox News was up 9 percent while CNN was down 2 percent. In the 18-49 demographics, Fox News was up 3 percent, MSNBC 17 percent and CNN 2 percent, while among the 25-54s, Fox News was down 2 percent, MSNBC was up 17 percent and CNN was down 1 percent. It's obvious that MSNBC had the best and CNN had the worst, with Fox News middling along.

In total program day, Fox News was up 7 percent, MSNBC up 14 percent and CNN down 13 percent. Demographics: 18-49s, Fox News up 3 percent, MSNBC up 8 percent, CNN down 15 percent, and in 25-54s, Fox News actually dropped 1 percent, CNN dropped 17 percent while MSNBC picked up 12 percent. Phil Griffin has something right happening at MSNBC, while CNN's results prove the lead of new leadership, which arrives in the form of Jeff Zucker

The month of December may have been more interesting. In total day, Fox News dropped 1 percent after the Republicans lost the election, MSNBC was up 19 percent and CNN gained 16 percent. I think CNN's improvement was largely due to Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown school disaster. Once again, hard fast breaking news drew occasional cable news viewers to CNN. The December primetime ratings offer the biggest surprise, the Fox News audience dropped 15 percent from December 2011, MSNBC was up 17 percent and CNN, probably thanks to the disasters, was up 32 percent. Among 18-49s, Fox News lost 42 percent of its audience year to year, while CNN gained 35 percent and MSNBC picked up 24 percent. It was just as pronounced among 25-54 year olds, again Fox News down 35 percent, MSNBC up 28 percent and CNN up 38 percent. CNN shows more news than either of the other two networks, both Fox News and MSNBC spend most of their time talking about the news rather than showing it. So, when news breaks fast and furious, CNN gets the best results, Fox News does the worst, while MSNBC gains, but not as much as CNN.

Please note that we have not referred to the 18-34 year olds, where at least in December, Fox News trailed badly, but the number of viewers who watch news is so small that the smallest shift causes a big change in percentage numbers (CNN was up 75 percent in primetime because it had 63,000 viewers in that age group rather than the 35,000 it had last December). In total day, the three cable news together average about 125,000 viewers in that age group per hour. I hope the others are using their cell phones.

All in all, 2012 was a good year for the cable news business, thanks to the Internet, it may be the best year they'll ever have.