Fox News still tops over CNN, MSNBC

Obama presidency gives network a boost

Fox News continued to hold a healthy primetime lead over cable news competitors CNN and MSNBC in May, according to data released this week by Nielsen.

The flagship programs at CNN and MSNBC are driving those networks down, while the Obama presidency continues to be a boon for Fox.

In year-to-year comparisons for the month, Fox News programming rose 30% in the 25-54 demo while CNN dropped 37% and MSNBC fell 7%. HLN, which features “Nancy Grace” at 8 and 10 p.m., rose 40%. May of 2008 repped six months before the presidential election, and the political appetite was extremely high.

MSNBC defeated CNN in the 25-54 demo in primetime for the third consecutive month and has scored more total primetime viewers in two of the last three months.

In total viewers for primetime, Fox News again fared well, ranking among the top five cable nets and averaging 1.97 million viewers (up 24%). MSNBC drew 756,000 (up 10% vs. 2008) and CNN 767,000 (down 22%).

Among specific shows in primetime, Fox talkers did best. In the 8 o’clock hour, “The O’Reilly Factor” was up 31% vs. a year ago in the demo while “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” fell 20%.

With President Obama holding office since January, the conservative-leaning Fox News primetime lineup has capitalized on being a strong minority voice. That’s a definitive switch from the later years of President Bush’s term, when the net was often on the defensive amid Bush’s sagging poll numbers and a country looking for a change in government.

Olbermann, who riles conservatives but excites the Democratic and liberal bases with his Republican-bashing comments, hit his lowest numbers of 2009.

Following “Olbermann” at 9 p.m., “The Rachel Maddow Show” also fell to its lowest levels since launching in October. “Maddow” lost ground to Fox News’ “Hannity,” which gained 31% in the demo, and was edged by “Larry King Live” in total viewers.

Things were also bleak at CNN for “Anderson Cooper 360,” which lost 33% in the demo from a year ago and is behind “Maddow.”

For the most-watched shows on the cable newsers, “The O’Reilly Factor” led with 2.9 million viewers a night, following by “Hannity” (2.1 million) and “Glenn Beck” (1.9 million). “Olbermann” is the top MSNBC show with 1 million and “Larry King Live” is best for CNN with 998,000.

CNN continues to fare a bit better in total-day figures, a reflection of its relatively soft primetime perf. Its average aud in May (535,000) was its second best in the last 10 years — behind only last year (577,000) — and still well ahead of third-place MSNBC (379,000).

Still, Fox News averaged more than twice as many viewers than CNN throughout the day (1.11 million), according to Nielsen.