News Nets Mark John Paul II’s Passing


The world gathered to watch the funeral of Pope John Paul II last Friday. How many U.S. viewers tuned in to watch the Mass and its proceedings won’t be fully sorted out until today, as Nielsen Media Research dissects the ratings.

Cable news networks began their wall-to-wall coverage from St. Peter’s Square in Rome at 3 a.m. (ET), an hour before the broadcast networks joined in for the three-hour funeral.

Catholic channel Eternal Word Television Network also covered the Mass that morning, and was expected to run encores throughout the day. Naturally, the papal funeral was the focus of news outlets everywhere. For instance, Cable News Network went for seven hours on Friday morning, and then was slated to replay highlights that evening, beginning at 7 p.m. and again at 11 p.m.

Fox News and CNN both claimed Nielsen victories for their coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II the weekend of April 2 and 3.

From 2:55 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. on April 2 (ET) — the period immediately following the Pope’s passing — Fox News Channel averaged 2.55 million viewers to CNN’s 2.25 million, according to Nielsen Media Research data. MSNBC averaged 944,000 over that span. Among adults 25 to 54, Fox News was on top with 951,000 viewers, compared to 685,000 and 412,000 watchers, respectively, for CNN and MSNBC in the same period.

On a total-day basis from 3 a.m. April 2 to 3 a.m. on April 3, Fox News averaged 1.29 million viewers and 460,000 25-to-54 watchers, versus 1.13 million total viewers and 399,000 among the demo for CNN, and 592,000 and 272,000 for MSNBC. The following day (3 a.m. to 3 a.m. April 4), Fox News averaged 619,000 total viewers, compared to 601,000 for CNN and 273,000 for MSNBC.

For its part, CNN cited Nielsen data that gave it the edge in April 2 and April 3 primetime. Among viewers, CNN pulled in 983,000 viewers on average to its coverage of the Pope’s death and legacy on April 2, which topped Fox News’s 828,000 and 432,000 for MSNBC. On April 3, CNN averaged 987,000 watchers, versus 743,000 and 371,000 for Fox News and MSNBC, respectively.

Among the 25 to 54 set, CNN counted 316,000 watchers, versus 293,000 for Fox News and 200,000 for MSNBC in primetime on April 2, according to Nielsen data. On April 3, the primetime 25-to-54 scorecard read: 316,000 for CNN: 192,000 for Fox News; and 115,000 for MSNBC. CNN also paced primetime on those days among adults 18 to 34 and 18 to 49.