Fox remained on top of cable news in August, but a hurricane of news helped CNN edge MSNBC after trailing it for most of the year.
The onslaught of major stories — the debt crisis, unrest across Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East, not to mention Hurricane Irene — kept the channels busy, undermining the notion that August is a slow news period. CNN benefitted in particular, as it does best when there is breaking news.
The network, which has languished in third behind its rival at 30 Rock for most of the year in prime time — and even trailed Headline News in July thanks to Casey Anthony coverage — took second place for the month in both prime time and total day numbers.
It drew 723,000 viewers in prime time, an average of 9,000 more than MSNBC. CNN's advantage was slightly larger in the demo, where it drew 242,000 as compared to MSNBC’s 227,000.
MSNBC also registered its weakest primetime numbers of the year, but did edge CNN in primetime if one only looks at Monday-Friday numbers. By that tally, MSNBC outdrew CNN 815,000 to 708,000. MSNBC’s ratings suffer more than its competitors over the weekend as documentary series like "Lockup" dominate its programming slate. That is why the network has begun the process of altering its weekend formula with shows like that of Chris Hayes.
Fox’s reign atop the cable news world continued unimpeded as the network attracted more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined in both prime time and total day. An average of almost 2 million viewers tuned in during prime time, with 484,000 coming from the adults 25-54 demographic. Compared to August of 2010, Fox was up 11 percent in the demo in primetime and 17 percent in total day.
In what was its second best month of the year, FNC also ranked third in all of cable in prime time and boasted the 13 highest-rated shows in cable news. In the 25-54 demo, Fox’s dominance was not quite as great, but because it only claimed the top 10 programs.