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Zimmerman Trial Revs Up Ratings for Cable News Networks

HLN and CNN benefit most, but Fox remains primetime leader in demo, total viewers

As the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial nears, cable news networks — especially CNN and HLN — are seeing increased viewership.

For the first three nights of this week, CNN, Fox News, HLN and MSNBC have averaged a combined 4.081 million viewers in primetime — a 14% rise over the 3.605 million they drew for the first three nights of the week before the trial.

And in the key news demo of adults 25-54, the gain is a hefty 49% (1.042 million vs. 700,000) — an indication that interest in the case has brought a younger audience to cable news than it typically draws.

Fox News Channel remains the ratings leader in primetime — drawing nearly as many viewers this week as CNN, HLN and MSNBC combined — but its three-day average this week (1.904 million) is actually a bit below the 2.033 million it drew from June 17-19. The other nets were all up: CNN (700,000, up 75%), HLN (671,000, up 80%) and MSNBC (607,000, up 7%).

All four nets are drawing more adults 25-54 than the week before the trial. FNC leads with 337,000 (up 15%), followed by HLN (288,000, up 123%) CNN (264,000, up 94%) and MSNBC (153,000, up 7%).

Since the Zimmerman trial began June 24, both CNN (“Self Defense or Murder”) and HLN (“After Dark”) have devoted nightly 10 o’clock programs on the courtroom highlights of the day. The HLN program actually has been going for a while, with the network introducing it during coverage of the Jodi Arias trial earlier this year.

In-home viewership for the Zimmerman verdict could surpass that of Casey Anthony’s acquittal two years ago, when a combined tune-in of 11.3 million watched on cable alone. (Nielsen limits its estimates to viewing done in homes, so this total does not include viewing done in offices, bars, airports or other places.)

HLN was an especially big beneficiary back then, drawing the biggest total audience in the network’s history. From 2:15 to 2:30 p.m. ET, when Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her young daughter, the network drew a big 5.2 million viewers — or about 18 times what HLN typically draws in the afternoon — to lead Fox News (2.9 million), CNN (2.3 million) and MSNBC (900,000), according to Nielsen.

In May, the verdict in the Arias murder trial drew a combined 6.9 million viewers on Fox News (2.76 million), HLN (2.2 million), CNN (1.52 million) and MSNBC (395,000).

The announcement of the verdict in O.J. Simpson’s trial in October 1995 was watched by more than 150 million viewers — a record audience for a single event — with about 75% of U.S. adults watching.

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