Fox News Channel got the ratings blessing yesterday for its coverage of the announcement of the new Pope. In the critical 11 AM-1 PM PT time period, the News Corp-owned cable news network drew an average of 2.232 million viewers. CNN was second with 1.497 million watching, CNN sister station Headline News was third with 913,000, and MSNBC was fourth with 597,000. During the two-hour block, the election of the Catholic Church’s 266th Pontiff was announced, and former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared to address a huge cheering crowd amassed at the Vatican.

While the viewership spread was 735,000 between Fox News and CNN, the demographic difference was much tighter. FNC pulled in 443,000 on average in the adults 25-54 demo during the time period, while CNN got 420,000. HLN garnered 315,000, and MSNBC got 142,000. All the cable news networks saw double-digit rises over their usual viewership for the time period. For total-day viewership Wednesday, Fox News beat CNN and MSNBC combined. The news network had 1.367 million viewers (239,000 in 25-54) compared to rivals CNN (573,000 viewers, 173,000 in 25-54) and MSNBC (498,000, (138,000 in 25-54). White smoke emerged from the Vatican smokestack just after 11 AM PT/2 PM ET on Wednesday The freshly named Francis I came out on the balcony just after noon. Having been in Rome all week doing their nightly new shows, ABC, NBC and CBS all cut into regularly scheduled programming when the white smoke appeared.

In Italy, the selection of a new Pope broke all previous TV viewing records in the strongly Catholic country. It wasn’t just faith that resulted in the high numbers — it was timing. The initial white smoke appeared near the beginning of primetime there. By the time the newly named Francis I appeared about an hour later, 29.9 million Italians were watching across seven domestic networks. That’s just a bit less than 50% of Italy’s population and resulted in an audience share of 89.1%. Although viewership was a record, the share was not: The 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France drew 24.5 million viewers but garnered a 90.1% share.