Why Is HLN Topping CNN In Primetime?

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Checking out the cable news primetime ratings for this week, one set of numbers immediately leap out:

Monday, March 2, 8-11 p.m. (P25-54)

FNC: 713,000

MSNBC: 419,000

HLN: 299,000

CNN: 285,000

Tuesday, March 3, 8-11 p.m. (P25-54)

FNC: 569,000

MSNBC: 423,000

HLN: 310,000

CNN: 241,000

HLN, the little network that could, is beating its older sibling CNN in the target 25-54 demo in primetime.

Not only that, but CNN finished fourth in the demo those two days, behind Fox News, which typically lies at the top of the list, MSNBC and HLN.

The trio of Campbell Brown, Larry King and Anderson Cooper, all well known household names, and all very expensive, should not be finishing fourth, period.

Now the question is, why? During the presidential election and its related events (the inauguration, Obama’s recent address to congress, etc…) the race was between CNN and Fox News.

Once the major political events died down, and barring an exclusive interview or special on another network, Fox would usually return to the top of the cable news rankings.

In this instance, it looks as though HLN reaped the benefits of intense interest in a murder trial, and some good old fashioned populism.

HLN’s Nancy Grace easily topped CNN’s Campbell Brown at 8 p.m. both nights. As it happens, in the 10 p.m. hour Tuesday a rerun of Nancy Grace beat a new edition of Anderson Cooper 360 by 50,000 demo viewers, as well as a rerun of Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

That would be due to the Casey Anthony murder trial, Casey having been charged with first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee. Whenever there is a national criminal case, be it the Anthony case (which gave Grace a ratings record last December) or the Duke Lacrosse team rape trial (a story Grace might regret since all the players charged in the case were acquitted), she seems to draw huge ratings.

Lou Dobbs also topped Larry King in the demo Monday, March 2 at 9 p.m.; somewhat of a surprise given that King had an exclusive interview with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

In his show Dobbs talked about the “global new deal” proposed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and “big government.” It looked like a pretty standard edition of Dobbs’ program to me, but I guess it resonated with viewers. Either that or people really don’t like watching Bobby Jindal.

At any rate, the ratings news is great for HLN, which is showing that it can hold its own against the competition, and bad for CNN, which should be topping its little sister every night, even with the odd criminal case boosting Nancy Grace.

Ratings from Wednesday night aren’t in yet, stay tuned to see how it turns out.

UPDATE: Normalcy was mostly restored Wednesday, with HLN returning to fourth place. Nancy Grace still performed strongly at 8, topping Brown and keeping it close with Olbermann, but Dobbs and the Grace replay did not perform as well as they had the previous two nights. CNN jumped to a close third, trailing MSNBC by about 50,000 demo viewers for the evening.

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