Net up 29% in total viewers for July

CNN saw sharp audience increases in July as war broke out in the south of Lebanon.

Net was up 29% in total viewers and 46% in the 25-54 demographic during the month — the biggest increase for any cable news network.

Fox News Channel was down 6% in total viewers and flat in the 25-54 demo. It suffered a more precipitous decline in primetime, losing 19% in total viewers and 16% in the demo.

Despite FNC’s declines, it still beat CNN handily in primetime, averaging 1.5 million viewers to CNN’s 864,000; CNN still has a long way to go before it can be considered a serious ratings challenger.

FNC won every hour of each day over CNN for the 55th straight month. It was the No. 5-rated cable network in June, behind USA, TNT, TBS and Lifetime. CNN came in 24th, MSNBC 36th.

July numbers were heavily influenced by two weeks of war coverage, starting with the abduction of two Israeli soldiers and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

Those two weeks boosted FNC’s daily average to 1.8 million viewers, more than CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Headline News combined, according to Nielsen Media Research.

All the cable news nets have grown accustomed to viewer spikes during big news events; the challenge has been to maintain viewer levels when the headlines subside.

FNC’s decreases in primetime can be attributed in part to boffo ratings in the same month last year, when the “runaway bride” and the search for Natalee Holloway briefly made “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren” the highest-rated show in cable news.

“Van Susteren” was down the most of any cable news show in July, dropping 33% in total viewers and 32% in the 25-54 demographic, the most important for advertisers.

Nevertheless, “Van Susteren” still came out on top of CNN’s much-promoted “Anderson Cooper 360,” which added 49% in total viewers during the month. “Van Susteren” averaged 1.4 million viewers during the month compared with 970,000 for “AC 360.”

In another closely watched battle, FNC’s Brit Hume maintained his lead even as CNN’s Lou Dobbs added 69% in total viewers over the same month last year. “Special Report With Brit Hume” averaged 1.4 million, “Lou Dobbs Tonight” 822,000.

MSNBC also saw broad ratings gains over a much smaller base. “Hardball With Chris Matthews” was up 156% in July, but its 338,000 viewers made it a distant third to CNN’s “The Situation Room” (716,000 total viewers) and FNC’s “Big Story With John Gibson” (1.1 million).

“Countdown With Keith Olbermann” also was up, but a feud with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly didn’t help his competitive position much. Olbermann finished third in the 25-54 demo and fourth in total viewers to Headline News’ “Nancy Grace.”

CNN’s Headline News has become less of a factor on breaking news, with a primetime now stocked with opinion and personality-based programming. Net dropped about a third of its primetime audience compared with July of last year.

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