Fox News reports; you decided
For the first time, the upstart news network beats CNN in total day and prime time
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/3/2002 7:00:00 PM
Maybe now Fox News Channel has CNN's attention. With bin Laden still on the lam and the war on terror seemingly more talk than action lately, Fox News reclaimed its pre-Sept. 11 prime time advantage over its rival in January. What's more, Fox now leads in total day, too.
CNN execs have downplayed the cable news war. "It's distracting," CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson said earlier, referring to media infatuation with the rivalry. But CNN also has never lost to Fox in both dayparts, so the rivalry is probably disappointing, too.
Fox's January triumph marked the first time in its 51/2-year history under news chief Roger Ailes that the News Corp.-owned net has beaten CNN flat out.
There are theories. CNN feasts on periods of breaking news, but Enron is no substitute for Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Fox News has a talk-radio style that thrives on controversy when the news slows down.
"We're not just a news machine spitting out facts like CNN does," said Fox News Executive Producer for Daytime Programming Dennis Murray. "We have personality and interesting stories," which may more closely explain the channel's growing appeal than its slogan, "We Report, You Decide."
In January, Fox News scored 1.1 in prime time, 0.7 in total day. In turn, CNN registered a 0.9 in prime, 0.6 in total day. Fox News has delivered better prime numbers than CNN for three straight months, but, in January, it outdelivered CNN for the first time. The distribution gap between the two nets is closing, with CNN in about 9 million more homes.
Almost twice as many people are watching Fox now than a year ago. The channel's household delivery jumped 80%, to 840,000 homes, compared with January 2001. CNN's delivery increased 19%.
CNN says its rebuilding strategy under Isaacson and Turner Broadcasting chief Jamie Kellner—mixing star power with journalism—is taking root on the air. But neither of its new franchise players Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown outperformed CNN's daypart averages last month. Zahn's American Morning averaged a 0.6 rating, and NewsNight With Aaron Brown posted a 0.8.
Few expect CNN's latest acquisition, former ABC News correspondent Connie Chung, to dislodge Fox's Bill O'Reilly from his perch atop the 8 p.m. hour. Chung's new show is expected to launch in April. Isaacson has said she will attract broadcast-network-type viewers. Translated, Chung viewers aren't the type who would watch O'Reilly anyway.
CNN execs say it takes at least a year for new programming to build a consistent following.
Zahn's defection to CNN last fall aside, Fox News has kept its schedule largely the same. Greta Van Susteren, the former CNN legal ace who joined Fox last month, will take over Zahn's old time at 10 p.m.
Fox claims four of the top five rated cable news shows; as usual Larry King, with a 1.2, was CNN's big star.
"We'll let CNN do all the tweaking that they want; we're happy with what we have," said Fox News' Murray.
Fox's personalities are an alternative to those on broadcast mode, while CNN is scooping up traditional broadcasters, says MSNBC President Erik Sorenson.
"We all do the same thing: We cover the same five or six big stories each day," he said. "Fox has chosen to do it with people like Shep Smith, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly. They counter the mainstream."
Sorenson's MSNBC harvested a 0.4 rating in January prime time, down from 0.6 in December. Former Republican presidential hopeful Alan Keyes hosts a new 10 p.m. show, Alan Keyes Is Making Sense, averaging a 0.4 rating its debut week Jan. 21-24.
Fox News also led all cable news nets in the three key adult demographics in prime. Compared with last January, Fox drew 102% more adults 18-49, 116% more adults 25-54. CNN's biggest gains came with adults 18-34, an 83% increase.
Otherwise, according to a new study by Columbia University's Project for Excellence in Journalism, both Fox News and CNN have been too patriotic and pro-administration in their war coverage. "For all Roger Ailes' talk of CNN's possible bias and Fox's patriotism ... there was no appreciable difference," the report said. It was based on a slim sample, focusing on Fox's Special Report With Brit Hume and CNN's NewsNight.
|The ratings race|
|Average prime time score|
|Source: Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data
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