NEW YORK — CNN’s coverage of the deadly tsunami in Southeast Asia boosted the news net’s primetime numbers by 86% Tuesday over its December average as the death toll continued to climb.
CNN’s viewership began to spike Sunday when word first came of the deadly waves and flooding that ravaged Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka and the coast of East Africa.
On Sunday night, CNN’s primetime viewership hit 628,000, 26% higher than its three-week Sunday average. By Tuesday, CNN’s primetime had grown to 1.47 million, 81% greater than the same day last year.
CNN typically experiences big viewership spikes during breaking news, and the tsunami is turning into one of the biggest breaking news stories of the year. But gone are the days when CNN can reliably take a ratings win from Fox News Channel on a big breaking story.
CNN edged Fox by 11% in the newswatching 25-54 year-old demographic in primetime Tuesday night, but FNC easily won primetime overall, with 1.79 million viewers.
Despite CNN’s overseas staffing advantage, Fox beat CNN by more than 400,000 viewers on Sunday morning when the nets started airing the first pictures of the devastation.
The tsunami story is allowing the cable news industry some redemption after a year in which it binged on Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson and a parade of partisan talking heads.
The overall cable news audience has dropped precipitously from 2003, a year that saw the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
But Tuesday was a good day for cable news ratings even compared with 2003, showing that titillation and talk is no substitute for news.
Comparing Tuesday’s tsunami ratings to the same day last year, two weeks after the capture of Saddam Hussein, CNN is up 81% in primetime while Fox rose 32% and MSNBC was up 29%.