When it came to finding out about the capture of Saddam Hussein, cable news viewers did what they did for most of 2003: they tuned in to Fox News Channel.
Although all three of the all-cable-news services chalked up triple-digit advances on Dec. 14 — the day when news that the Iraqi despot had been finally apprehended broke — Fox News led the pack with 2.95 million viewers from 5 a.m.-1 p.m., according to Nielsen Media Research data. That represented a 275% jump from the corresponding period the Sunday before (786,000 viewers) and a 292% surge for the month to that point (751,000 viewers on average from Dec. 1 to 12).
CNN drew some 2.68 million viewers on average during the aforementioned period, 580% more than during the same span on Dec. 7 (394,000) and 538% higher than its month-to-date average (420,000).
Third-place news player MSNBC attracted 846,000 watchers on Dec. 14, a total that outstripped its 204,000-viewer average on Dec. 7 by 315% and its month-to-date figure of 194,000 watchers by 336%.
Over the course of the entire day, Fox averaged 2.32 million viewers (up 187% on a month-to-date basis and 272% from the previous Sunday), compared with 1.97 million for CNN (336% and 415%, respectively) and 677,000 for MSNBC (235% and 209%, respectively).
From a household ratings perspective, Fox News chalked up a 2.6 from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 14 — a 245% improvement from the prior Sunday, and a 241% increase to a 2.1 gauged on a total-day basis.
CNN's ratings for the early hours of coverage spiked 506% to a 2.3 from the prior Sunday and 401% to a 1.7 average over the full day. MSNBC, meanwhile, notched a 0.8 (280%) over the eight-hour span and a 0.6 (177%) over the 24-hour period.
The Hussein story's appeal evidently waned among viewers in the days that followed. Fox News saw its total-day mark diminish from a 2.1 on Dec. 14 to a 1.3 and a 1.1 the next two days. That still represented a significant edge over its competitors as CNN's household ratings dropped back to a 0.7 and a 0.5 on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16, respectively, while MSNBC registered 0.3 averages on both succeeding days.
In primetime, Fox News generated averages that outpaced its 1.6 year-to-date household rating: a 2.3 on Dec. 14 , a 2.0 on Dec. 15 and a 1.8 the following night. Conversely, CNN, which had averaged a 1.0 through Dec. 14, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data, racked up a 1.7 that evening, but then merely matched its year-to-date performance, delivering a 1.1 and a 0.9 on the succeeding nights.
According to Nielsen, MSNBC, which averaged a 0.5 in primetime year-to-date, actually saw its number fall: producing just a 0.4 for each of three nights in question.