Whitney Houston, Rick Santorum Lift CNN in Prime Time But New Morning Show Falls Flat

Numbers for year show No. 1 Fox News and No. 3 MSNBC about level from a year ago while No. 2 CNN posts modest prime-time gain

Was it Whitney Houston or Rick Santorum that lifted CNN’s otherwise underperforming line-up?

Perhaps a bit of both.

CNN was the only one of the three cable networks to show substantial growth in prime time from February of 2011 to 2012, as its total viewership increased almost 20 percent to 805,000. The network was up about 10 percent in the key adults 25-54 demo.

Also read: Fox News: CNN's John King Helped Newt Gingrich Win South Carolina

That growth stems in part from the channel’s extensive primary coverage. CNN was the lone cable network with a debate in the past 30 days. Its contest in Arizona, a big win for Romney, drew 4.7 million viewers – the network’s highest rated program of the month.

CNN’s prime time boost can also be attributed to Whitney Houston, as the network drew 1.4 million viewers the night of Houston’s death and continued to get good ratings from its coverage.

Despite CNN's increases in prime time, its full day viewership declined in both total viewers and the demo. Many of its daily shows are down, in particular its morning show “Early Start,” which delivered the fewest total viewers in that time period since August of 2001.

“Outfront with Erin Burnett” and “John King U.S.A” also showed big drops relative to the shows that previously held their time slots while "Piers Morgan" is down almost 20 percent in total viewers and 10 percent in the demo.

While CNN had mixed results, the other two cable networks showed little change from a year ago.

Fox, as its has for ten years running, beat both its competitors, registering an average of 1.9 million total viewers in prime time and 415,000 in the demo. The number of total viewers is about level with last year’s total, while the cable news leader lost about 10 percent in the key adults 25-54 demo.

In total day, its 1.09 million viewers, 270,000 of which came from the demo, were also about even.

It owned the top 12 shows in cable news by total viewers, and nine of of the top ten in the demo.

One particular bright spot was "The Five," which had its best performance in the demo since its July debut with 372,000 viewers.

MSNBC was also flat from a year ago, as it continues to tussle with CNN for second. MSNBC triumphed in total viewers during prime time with an average of 825,000, but CNN had the edge in the demo with 282,000 to MSNBC's 236,000.

MSNBC declined a few percentage points in prime time for both total viewers and the demo, but increased those figures for the full day.

MSNBC was the only network to gain ground in prime time if one compares the numbers to January. It is up across the board ever since President Barack Obama's "State of the Union" address.

Both Fox and MSNBC’s morning shows exhibited growth in the month – “Fox and Friends” in total viewers” and “Morning Joe” in the demo.