Peterson: Disappearance & Arrest

April 23, 2003

Peterson case Fox's most-watched

HOLLYWOOD -- As further proof that TV viewers' attention to events in Iraq is waning, cable news viewing continued its steady decline last week, with the combined audience for Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC slipping more than 30 percent from the previous week.

Last week's most-watched single program on cable, at just more than 5 million viewers, was Fox News' Friday coverage relating to slain Modesto woman Laci Peterson, including the arrest of her alleged killer, husband Scott Peterson -- the sort of sensational domestic story temporarily shelved during the war.

All three channels remain well above year-ago levels, with Fox News' talk lineup -- averaging 3.1 million viewers in prime time -- faring best in retaining audience to stay the most-watched cable channel, a title it has held since the war began five weeks ago.

CNN, meanwhile, averaged 1.8 million viewers to drop behind sister AOL Time Warner entertainment channels TNT and the Cartoon Network, as well as Nickelodeon and USA, which received a boost from the miniseries "Helen of Troy."

Similarly, MSNBC fell to less than 1 million viewers. The network -- which has struggled in its attempt to counter Fox News in the talk arena -- is hoping to become more competitive by hanging on to some of those drawn to cable news during the war.

By comparison, the network evening newscasts experienced a less pronounced decline that officials attribute in part to the advent of daylight-saving time. "NBC Nightly News" averaged 9.8 million viewers last week, vs. 8.6 million and 7.1 million for "ABC World News Tonight" and "The CBS Evening News," respectively.

Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" has cooled as well but remains cable's most popular daily news offering, averaging 4 million viewers last week. The News Corp.-owned news channel slipped behind The WB and UPN broadcast networks in average prime-time viewership for the first time since the war in Iraq commenced.

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