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‘Chung’ slips past Phil to take second

'O'Reilly Factor' far ahead in first

The yakker battle for second place in primetime between MSNBC’s “Donahue” and CNN’s “Connie Chung Tonight” is a photo finish — with Chung hanging on by a hair.

Since Phil Donahue launched his gabfest on MSNBC’s rejiggered primetime sked July 15, he’s averaged 620,000 viewers, compared with Chung’s 746,000 in the same 8 o’clock hour, according to the final July Nielsen ratings. Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” hosted by Bill O’Reilly, is well ahead of both, taking in an average total aud of just about 2 million. (MSNBC and Fox News have smaller distribution than CNN.)

In total household ratings during the same time slot, Chung grabbed .7 compared with the godfather of gab’s .6. O’Reilly pulled in a 1.8.

But most news cablers can boast a staggering amount of year-to-year viewership growth from July 2001 to July 2002.

In total day, CNN jumped 57% to an average of 514,000 viewers, while MSNBC is up 17% to 266,000. Frontrunner Fox News spiked 97% to 621,000.

Media watchers have attributed this mostly to post-9/11 issues and persisting interest in the faltering economy. “This July has been a much stronger month for news,” said Tim Brooks, a ratings guru who is senior veepee of research for Lifetime Networks.

Brooks thinks that the CNN-Fox News rivalry has bolstered interest in cable news. “Two powerhouse networks competing in a given category will enhance both of them,” he said. “Just look at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.”

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