Another election-night victory: CNN clocks most viewers in cable news

Wolf Blitzer anchors CNN's election night coverage. ()
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During last night's election coverage from Fox Broadcasting Network, which was airing on local Fox affiliates simultaneous to the coverage on Fox News, anchor Shepard Smith likened the American election system to cable news ratings.

The analogy went like this: Just as a dead-even popular vote is trumped by the weight of the electoral college, so too is a network's overall number of viewers essentially meaningless compared to how many people in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic are watching it.

So one could argue that Fox News Channel's near neck-and-neck finish with CNN in terms of total viewers is a moot point given that CNN placed well ahead of its competitor in the 25-54 demo, which is the one advertisers care about.

CNN was the top-rated cable news network on election night from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., with 8.836 million total viewers and 4.387 viewers in the demo, compared to Fox News Channel's 8.708 million total viewers and 3.494 demo viewers, according to Nielsen Fast National Ratings data provided by CNN.

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On an average night in primetime, CNN usually draws considerably fewer viewers than Fox News (long the perennial ratings champ) and its other competitor, MSNBC. The persistent low ratings have become a major hurdle for the network, whose audience diminished in recent years as viewers began to move to more partisan fare. CNN's parent company, Time Warner, is scrambling to fix the problem, even as other parts of CNN's operation, such as its international and digital businesses, continue to thrive.

But major news events—hurricanes, earthquakes, elections, etc.—are when CNN get its mojo back on the small screen.

MSNBC, on the other hand, tends to slip into third during the same situations. Last night's election coverage gave it 4.604 million total viewers and 2.021 million viewers ages 25 to 54, according to Nielsen.

Despite CNN's overall ratings victory, Fox News came out on top during the primetime hours of 8 to 11 p.m., according to TV Newser.

"I have the 8-11 PM numbers, and they show Fox News topping cable," writes Alex Weprin. "In fact, FNC had its best primetime ever in total viewers, topping the night of the VP debate in 2008."

And Fox News may have walked away with the buzziest moment of the night: Karl Rove's awkward tiff with the network's anchors and decision desk, which, like several other networks, projected that President Obama had taken Ohio, thus securing his second term.

"[The episode] speaks for itself," a Fox News spokesperson told New York's Gabriel Sherman. "It was live television."