A tumultuous year for cable news networks wrapped with all of them having experienced some kind of ratings ding compared to ’12 – except HLN, whose currency is court trials, not presidential election cycles. 2013 was the year of the George Zimmerman and Jodi Arias trials – a good year for HLN.
Perennial cable news ratings leader Fox News Channel wound up ‘13 ranked No. 6 in primetime among all ad-supported cablers – behind USA, ESPN, History, TBS and TNT – with an average audience of 1.761 million viewers. (For comparison sake, MSNBC ranked No. 29 with 640,000 viewers, and CNN ranked 32nd with 568,000. HLN brought up the rear, with a primetime average of 395,000 viewers, but that’s a 22% year-to-year improvement.)
FNC made headlines this year when it revamped its primetime slate in October, adding Megyn Kelly at 9 PM, and moving Sean Hannity to 10 and Greta Van Susteren to 7. Since the change, all four of FNC’s primetime shows are up in total viewers and in the demo compared to year to date averages with Kelly’s show up the most: 10% in the news demo and 20% in overall audience.
Jeff Zucker took over the reins at CNN at the start of ’13; the network edged back up to No. 2 in total day, but remained in third place in prime, behind MSNBC, with its smallest ratings in two decades. That said, CNN’s weekday primetime programs saw some growth, including Anderson Cooper’s double-digit improvement, and a Piers Morgan inch-up. During Zucker’s first year, CNN launched a number of new programs, with mixed results. New Day and revamped Crossfire, for instance, are down compared to their timeslot’s averages pre-launch — New Day by 7% in total viewers and 20% in the demo, and Crossfire by 23% and 20%. But Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – part of the network’s new weekend strategy — was the top regularly scheduled weekend program on all of cable news in the demo in 2013. Meanwhile, new CNN Films banner boosted the network’s ratings position with six titles, led by Blackfish. On its October 24 premiere, it was the No. 1 cable news program in the news demo and its premiere posted CNN’s youngest median age for a prime program in a decade (40 years old). Across all airings, Blackfish reached 21 million total viewers and 7.8 million adults 25-54. CNN Films premieres grew from their time-period’s prior 4-week average among adults 25-54.
MSNBC hung on to second place in primetime but slid to No. 3 in total day. Three of its primetime shows were down compared to ‘12. All In with Chris Hayes, which debuted in April, clocked the network’s smallest 8 PM ET stats since ’05. MSNBC’s top rated program, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell dropped by double digits. On the bright side, after cutting back Hardball With Chris Matthews back to a single 7 PM ET telecast in August, the show jumped 31% in the news demo.
HLN finished 2013 behind its cable news competitors but was the only one of the crop to show growth in key metrics compared to ’12. Not surprisingly, HLN’s flagship show, Nancy Grace climbed 18% in overall audience (493,000 and 25% in the news demo (168,000).