MSNBC attracted more viewers than its cable competitors in the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. hour on the Democratic National Convention's opening night, supplanting CNN, which led the ratings four years ago.
MSNBC drew 4.11 million viewers from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. New York time on Sept. 4, during the speech of First Lady Michelle Obama. By comparison, CNN registered 3.89 million, and 2.4 million watched on Fox News, the networks said yesterday in separate releases, citing Nielsen data.
The ratings loss highlights the challenge facing CNN as it reconsiders the down-the-middle approach that dominated cable news for two decades. The Time Warner network's president, Jim Walton, said in July he would resign at year-end, telling staff in a memo "CNN needs new thinking."
"Time Warner has been making a number of talent and programming adjustments to CNN," David Joyce, an analyst at ISI Group in New York, said in an e-mail. "It is a very important network in their portfolio."
First-night convention coverage averaged 26.2 million viewers across nine broadcast and cable outlets, an 18% increase from four years ago, Nielsen said on its website.
NBC, a sibling of MSNBC in Comcast's portfolio, led all outlets with 5.02 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour Tuesday, repeating its win from 2008, industry tracker TVNewser reported, citing the Nielsen data.
CNN, which invented 24-hour cable news under Ted Turner in 1980, was overtaken by the more-opinionated Fox News during Mr. Walton's tenure. Fox News dominated ratings for the Republican convention last week in Tampa.
MSNBC has cut into CNN's flank from the left side of the political spectrum. Its cable-news ratings win was a first for the network during a full night of convention coverage, the channel said in an e-mailed statement. MSNBC's coverage was hosted by Rachel Maddow, with Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O'Donnell, Al Sharpton, Chris Hayes and others, MSNBC said.
Cable viewers are migrating to outlets they agree with. CNN's audience during convention coverage opening night fell 23% from four years ago, while MSNBC's grew 53%, TVNewser reported.