A big month of political news in February brought big ratings to both Fox News and CNN.
A series of successful debates and town halls pushed CNN past Fox News during prime time in the key demo of adults age 25-54. CNN averaged 500,000 viewers, edging Fox News’ 427,000. CNN grew a whopping 194 percent compared to February of last year.
MSNBC was a distant third in the prime-time demo, averaging only 244,000 viewers, but did show significant growth, up 103 percent. CNN has now topped MSNBC in prime time in total viewers for the third consecutive month and for 20 months in the demo.
Fox News dominated among total viewers, topping basic cable in both prime time and total day viewers during February for the first time since the Iraq war coverage in 2003. This marks the Fox News’ 170th consecutive month as the most-watched cable news channel.
Fox News averaged 2.22 million primetime viewers, compared to 1.61 million for CNN. In a telling sign to Fox News’ dominance over the years, CNN grew 217 percent compared to last year despite finishing second, while Fox grew by 22 percent. Fox News surpassed ESPN, USA, TNT and all other cable networks as the No. 1 basic cable network in all day parts.
CNN spent $50 million to beef up political programming, according to The New York Times. The investment appears to be paying off, with CNN posting its its highest prime-time ratings in both total viewers and the demo 25-54 since November 2008. CNN produced two GOP town halls, two Democratic town halls and a GOP debate this month. It also teamed up with PBS for a Democratic debate.
Meanwhile, Fox Business Network had its highest rated month ever this month, marking three consecutive months where it hit that milestone. Fox Business has had eight consecutive months of ratings highs since last summer’s lineup change. FBN also pulled within 35 percent of CNBC which is the closest its ever been to the 25-year-old business network.