Cable news ratings fell up to 60% in October

NEW YORK — They were blown across parking lots, buffeted by driving rain, and marooned in hip-deep, fetid water.

While the correspondents have by now dried out, the dropoff in ratings for cable news outlets is enough for many a cable exec to yearn for the good old days.

Cable news ratings fell as much as 60% in October from September when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and then Wilma dominated the news cycle.

As the storms subsided and coverage shifted to Washington for the doomed nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, CNN plummeted 58% , followed by Fox News, which fell 47%, and MSNBC, which fell 40%.

CNBC was the only news net to report a ratings gain from September to October as the corporate earnings season got under way.

The falloff illustrates the central challenge of 24-hour news: how to maintain audience during a ho-hum news cycle.

All cable news outlets are down from a year ago, which is a tough comparison due to the four presidential debates in October 2004. Fox in particular scored huge ratings last fall with its politics-oriented shows in primetime.

In total day, CNN was up 1% from last year while MSNBC dropped 10% and Fox was off 13%. In primetime, CNN dropped 21%, MSNBC fell 28% and Fox dropped 29%.

In daytime programming, all three nets built audience. MSNBC was up 12%, CNN up 10% and Fox up 3%.

In October, Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” retained its crown as the top cable news show with 2.7 million average viewers. Fox had 11 of the top 12 shows in cable news. “Larry King Live” was CNN’s top show with 1.1 million viewers. MSNBC’s top show was “Rita Cosby Live & Direct” with 382,000 viewers.

Without a single court drama dominating the headlines, Headline News’ top show “Nancy Grace” fell to earth, but still turned in a respectable 483,000 average viewers.

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