Fox News Channel surpassed Cable News Network to become the most-watched news channel in January, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings.
While Fox News has frequently topped CNN in ratings during the last year, January marks the first time the network topped CNN in viewers. It averaged 656,000 viewers, compared to CNN's 596,000.
Fox News beat CNN in viewers despite the latter's distribution advantage. CNN counts 86 million subscribers, compared with Fox's 77 million.
Fox News averaged a 0.7 total-day rating and 539,000 households in January, beating CNN's 0.6 rating and 525,000 households. In primetime, Fox drew a 1.1 rating, 840,000 households and 1.1 million viewers compared with CNN, which posted a 0.9 rating, 757,000 households and 921,000 viewers.
Dennis Murray, executive producer of Fox News's daytime programming, attributed the network's ratings success to an ability "to break down the wall between the person on the air and the viewer."
"When you have loyal viewers, they tell people about you. CNN — they're just kind of there if you're in a hotel somewhere," Murray added.
Fox's next goal is to knock CNN's Larry King Live
out of the top-five news shows on cable, and place Greta Van Susteren in the top five, Murray said. The former CNN anchor's new program, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, debuts tonight (Feb. 4) on Fox News.
CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson downplayed the Fox News ratings win, noting that CNN is still posting higher ratings than it did last year, even though the younger network has taken the lead.
"Our approach is different, and what's important to us is that we continue to grow and build our audience," Robinson added.
CNN and Fox News dominated MSNBC, which averaged a 0.4 primetime rating and 293,000 households. CNBC pulled a 0.3 rating and 223,000 households. Headline News placed last in the news category, averaging a 0.2 primetime rating and 181,000 households.
CNBC was the only news network that lost households compared with last January, dropping 25 percent in total-day and 31 percent in primetime.
Fox News raised its household count by 109 percent during the same period, followed by CNN (up 51 percent), Headline News (up 48 percent) and MSNBC (up 23 percent).