Air strike coverage lifts CNN

Cabler averaged ratings 67% over previous Sundays

CNN vaulted to the top of the Nielsen cable ratings in both primetime and total day last week, catapulted by its coverage Sunday of the U.S. air strikes on Afghanistan.

From 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, when CNN started covering the bombings, to 11 p.m., CNN averaged a 4.0 rating, which is 67% above its average for the previous three Sundays. For the full week (Oct. 1-7), CNN finished in a dead heat with ESPN for No. 1-rated network for the week, each averaging a 1.9 Nielsen rating.

Fox News Channel, delivering wall-to-wall coverage of the conflict, also pulled in many more viewers than usual on Sunday, averaging a 2.3 rating for the 10-plus hours, a number that lifted FNC to the rare heights of a fifth-place tie among all basic-cable networks in both primetime (with Lifetime) and total day (with TBS) for the week of Oct. 1-7.

MSNBC was right behind FNC for the 10-plus Sunday hours, its 2.2 average rating good for a seventh-place tie (with TNT, ESPN, TNN and A&E) in total day for the week and 12th place in primetime.

By breaking out its Sunday war coverage into discrete 60-minute blocks under the heading “America Strikes Back,” CNN peaked from 5 to 6 p.m. EDT with a 4.4 rating. That hour wound up as the second highest-rated program of the week, beaten only by the Panthers-49ers pro-football game on ESPN, which ended up with a below-average 6.2 rating, clearly losing some viewers to the news coverage.

TNN’s two-hour primetime wrestling extravaganza on Oct. 1 at 9 came in third for the week with a 4.4 rating. The rest of the top 10 programs for the week were one-hour blocks of CNN Sunday news coverage.

The highest-rated primetime movie of the week was Sunday’s “Money Talks,” with Chris Tucker and Charlie Sheen, which averaged a 3.1 rating on TBS from 8 to 10.

In addition to the all-news networks, the one entertainment network that attracted more viewers than the same week a year ago was TNN, which parlayed a five-day “Star Trek: The Next Generation” marathon into a 1.4 average primetime rating, giving it an eighth-place tie with Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite.

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