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Cable TV – Intro

Intro

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

Cable television news showed further signs of maturity in 2007. After a year of losses, the medium regained viewers, especially at prime time, though the roster of winners is changing.

MSNBC, still lagging in sheer numbers, saw the greatest growth. CNN, stemming years of losses a year earlier, grew just slightly while sibling CNN Headline News grew more. Fox News, which saw substantial growth for nearly a decade, enjoyed the least amount of growth even as it remained the audience leader.

But the medium may face a more long-term challenge. For the second year running, there were no significant audience spikes from major events, which may reflect a slower news year but could also reflect a structural change in where audiences go for breaking news. Instead, prime-time programming, built around cable personalities, is what viewers were tuning into more substantially.

Financially, cable news remained a robust business. Fox News increased its profits most, MSNBC inched its way into healthier economic territory (exceeding projections) and CNN & Headline News remained steady.

MSNBC, as part of a broader corporate decision, moved in with NBC News in New York to make the organization more efficient and share resources. Time Warner, parent of CNN, brought in a new CEO, while News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, kept analysts busy with the launch of the long-anticipated Fox Business Network and its purchase of Dow Jones & Company.

CNN & Headline News continued to spend the most money on news gathering, even as the company announced plans to build up its international newsgathering resources, after breaking ties with Reuters. In many ways, with a greater reliance on correspondents producing taped packages and fewer talk shows, CNN is more focused on traditional reporting.

Both Fox News and MSNBC were expected to add to their spending in news in 2007, as well. But our content analysis reveals that MSNBC is the least oriented to correspondents preparing edited packages and, with the smallest reporting staff, depends far more heavily on interviewing and reporters answering questions from anchors.

Meanwhile, Fox News finally came forward with its business news channel, coinciding with its parent company’s purchase of Dow Jones, but the launch of Fox Business Network was a decidedly low-key affair.

The 24-hour news channels outside the U.S. — BBC, France 24 and Al Jazeera — marked the first year of their American operations without much growth but remained optimistic. Current TV, with its unique offering of user-created current affairs, did see growth in audience, and economic projections bode well.