Much has been written lately about some of the stratospheric ratings numbers that CNN and MSNBC have achieved during this presidential primary season. Of course, you can see much of that in our long term trend charts of cable news ratings.
Fox News has for quite some time lead cable news ratings by most measures, so the recent heights to which CNN and MSNBC have risen have caused some to wonder whether it's just a series of temporary blips during what has been an historically tight Democratic primary season, or whether there might be a longer lasting effect to the cable news ratings landscape.
We've looked at some of the data on the recent big ratings nights in cable news, as well as the following days ratings, and the pattern does not bode well for any long term rearrangement of the cable news pecking order.
Like Aesop's hares, CNN and MSNBC ratings do leap ahead on the nights when either they have hosted a debate or there is a big primary night, but fall back quickly to their status quo level the next day, suggesting that casual cable news viewers tune in for those big events, but will not become longer term viewers. Fox News, like Aesop's tortoise, doesn't jump up nearly as much on big primary nights, but also doesn't fall off nearly as sharply afterwards. And we all know how that fabled race turned out.
I'm a casual cable news viewer myself and get 99% of my news from the web. I no longer watch election returns on television since the network websites have gotten so much better (particularly CNN's). But put OJ in the Bronco or give me live video of a hurricane and I'll watch television news.
On to the data:
Click any of the images below for a full sized version. Sadly, they're still a bit difficult to see clearly.
Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.