Confab buoys news nets

Fox, CNN, MSNBC all post higher numbers than 1999

PHILADELPHIA — With one night down and three to go, TV networks Tuesday were spinning out the first round of ratings for their coverage of the Republican convention that saw a dramatic falloff at CNN from the 1996 GOP meet, but a sharp increase at all three cable news nets from average primetime numbers.

For the three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST, CNN’s rating sank to a 1.2 from a 1.9, with 933,000 households, compared with 1.3 million four years ago.

Fox, which wasn’t around last convention season, posted a 0.9 with 465,000 households, while MSNBC pulled in third with 0.6 and 374,000, according to overnight Nielsen ratings.

But ratings (based on numbers of cable households) at all three news nets were double or more what they would normally garner from an average night of primetime, based on July stats.

New benchmark

CNN said that’s the only way to measure performance. The Time Warner-owned net jumped from a .6 to a 1.2. Fox and MSNBC showed similar bounces.

“The only appropriate benchmark is a 2000 benchmark,” said CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson.

“People were tuning in to the convention. We’re not at all disappointed. We’re pleased. Among people tuning in to cable, we clearly dominate,” she added.

Fox was crowing about beating MSNBC with its complement of NBC news stars like Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.

“MSNBC is sinking faster than the Andrea Gail,” quipped a Fox spokesperson.

While some industryites suggested the Rupert Murdoch-owned net should have pulled in better numbers given its owner’s known conservative leanings, Fox insisted that it sticks by its mantra of “fair and balanced coverage.”

“Everyone’s going to say Murdoch is conservative because they have nothing better to say,” the Fox spokesperson added.

PBS was also tooting its horn, boasting a 2 rating.

NBC first with ‘Third’

NBC left all its convention coverage to sister MSNBC and cleaned up with firemen drama “Third Watch” from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., about the only entertainment alternative among the major nets during that period. The show drew a 7.1 overnight from a 5.8 third-quarter average.

ABC hit the convention the same hour, which is when most of the top speeches get made, and came in with a 4.78 — up from a 3.8 the year before but down from 5.6 in 1992.

CBS was flat from four years ago at 3.87, but also down from 1992.

“The numbers are trending downward — viewers are less interested in a convention without suspense. It’s a big infomercial,” said NBC director of communications Barbara Levin. If ABC and CBS had all-news networks to lean on, she added, “they’d do exactly what we do.”

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