Event makes ratings surge, puts cablers on solid ground

NEW YORK — Viewers returned to cable news nets in droves Sunday to catch a glimpse of Saddam Hussein’s capture, with Fox News Channel remaining the No. 1 choice.

On the broadcast side, Nielsen numbers for Sunday morning won’t be available until later this week. The story continued to draw viewers throughout the afternoon and evening, with NBC News’ “Nightly News With Tom Brokaw” the choice of most viewers.

According to Nielsen Media Research, Fox News averaged 2.3 million viewers for the total day, a 463% surge from the same Sunday last year and up 272% from the week before.

CNN delivered 2 million viewers, up 346% from the same day last year and up 415% from the previous Sunday, according to Nielsen. MSNBC saw its usual standing improve substantially, averaging 677,000 viewers, up 129% from the year before and up 209% from the previous Sunday.

MSNBC enjoyed a rare victory: During the 5 a.m. hour, when the Hussein story broke, it narrowly beat CNN in total viewers (272,000 to 248,000) — with both well behind Fox News’ 453,000.

Isolating the 5 a.m.-1 p.m. ET block — the crucial period for the breaking story, with cablers mostly going commercial-free — Fox News averaged 2.9 million viewers, up 515% from the same Sunday last year and up 275% from the week before, according to Nielsen. CNN averaged 2.7 million viewers, up 558% from last year and up 580% from the same time frame a week before.

Peacock ahead

At the broadcasters, NBC’s “Nightly News” (11.2 million) held a 32% advantage over ABC News’ “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” (10.3 million). CBS’ “Evening News With Dan Rather,” with low clearances due to NFL coverage, averaged 8 million viewers.

In the key news demo of adults 25-54, NBC’s broadcast Sunday night posted a 3.3 rating, ahead of ABC’s 2.3 and CBS’ 1.6. That’s nearly double what the Peacock and Alphabet newscasts garnered on the parallel Sunday a year ago.

Cable news nets themselves saw strong primetime numbers. Fox News averaged 2.6 million viewers, up 236% from the same Sunday last year and up 248% from the previous Sunday, according to Nielsen. That marked the most growth among the cable news nets.

CNN delivered 1.9 million viewers in primetime, up 186% from the same day a year ago and up 192% from the previous Sunday. MSNBC lagged compared with last year, delivering 440,000 viewers, down 21% from the same Sunday in 2002. MSNBC, however, was up 29% compared with the previous Sunday, according to Nielsen.

Fox News also led cablers for the night in adults 25-54.

In the opening hour of primetime Sunday, “60 Minutes” on CBS dominated, with 18.8 million viewers, and NBC’s “Dateline” averaged 10 million — both up year-to-year. ABC went with an 8 o’clock news spec that drew nearly 8 million viewers.

(Rick Kissell in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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