MSNBC Topples CNN as Cable Ratings Leader on Democrats’ Opener

Comcast Corp.’s MSNBC attracted the most viewers among cable networks covering the Democratic National Convention’s opening night, supplanting Time Warner Inc.’s CNN, which led the ratings four years ago.

MSNBC drew 4.11 million viewers from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. New York time on Sept. 4, during the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama. By comparison, CNN registered 3.89 million, and 2.4 million watched on Fox News, the networks said yesterday in separate releases, citing Nielsen data.

The ratings loss highlights the challenge facing Atlanta-based CNN as it reconsiders the down-the-middle approach that dominated cable news for two decades. The Time Warner Inc.-owned network’s president, Jim Walton, said in July he would resign at year-end, telling staff in a memo “CNN needs new thinking.”

“Time Warner has been making a number of talent and programming adjustments to CNN,” David Joyce, an analyst at ISI Group in New York, said in an e-mail. “It is a very important network in their portfolio.”

First-night convention coverage averaged 26.2 million viewers across nine broadcast and cable outlets, an 18 percent increase from four years ago, Nielsen said on its website.

CNN, which invented 24-hour cable news under Ted Turner in 1980, was overtaken by the more-opinionated Fox News during Walton’s tenure. Fox News, featuring commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, dominated ratings for the Republican convention last week in Tampa, Florida, while MSNBC, home to Rachel Maddow, has cut into CNN’s flank from the opposite side.


MSNBC’s cable-news ratings win was a first for the network during a full night of convention coverage, the channel said in an e-mailed statement. MSNBC’s coverage was hosted by Maddow, with Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, Chris Hayes and others, MSNBC said.

NBC, the Comcast Corp.-owned broadcast network, led all outlets with 5.02 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour last night, repeating its win from 2008, industry tracker TVNewser reported, citing the Nielsen data.

Cable viewers are migrating to outlets they agree with. CNN’s audience during convention coverage opening night fell 23 percent from four years ago, while MSNBC’s grew 53 percent, TVNewser reported.

Time Warner, based in New York, gained 2.2 percent to $42.25 yesterday in New York. The stock has climbed 17 percent this year. Comcast, based in Philadelphia, added 0.6 percent to $33.71 and News Corp., based in New York, rose 0.9 percent to $23.75.

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