February Heated Up for Cable News


It's practically yesterday's news that Fox News beat out CNN in ratings. February's headline, though, is that Fox boasts ratings in the upper echelon of cable ratings last month, keeping company with cable megaplayers like TNT, Nickelodeon and Lifetime.

Last month, Fox News averaged a 1.7 rating in prime time with 1.8 million viewers, surging about 50% from February 2002, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was good enough to finish third in the February cable ratings, matching Lifetime's monthly average. Only TNT (2.1 rating) and Nickelodeon (1.8) notched higher marks.

Fox outpaced CNN by about 800,000 viewers in prime, one of the largest prime time margins since it overtook CNN in January 2002. MSNBC's ratings were flat at an average 0.4, although it increased viewers by 31% to 426,000 in prime.

The news lifted CNN, too. For February, CNN posted a 1.1 average in prime and 1.2 million viewers, up about 50% from the year before.

Indeed, February was a heavy news month, punctuated by the Columbia shuttle disaster, continued war and terror-attack rumbles, night-club tragedies in Chicago and Providence, R.I., and a snow-covered East Coast.

Given all that, "all the news networks should
be up," said Bill Shine, Fox Network's executive producer. But, he continued, "if you look at our growth, the numbers show Fox is becoming a destination for basic-cable viewers."

Proof of the strength, he said, was that every show on Fox's schedule from 4 to 11 p.m. posted record ratings in February. "You just can't say, well, we're just opinion and talk."

But as usual, The O'Reilly Factor
was Fox's biggest draw for the month, attracting an average 2.7 million viewers. Fox also continued to claim four of the five top-rated news shows. Larry King Live
was CNN's lone entry among the top five news programs (No. 4 with 1.6 million average viewers).