07/06/2010 02:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cable News Blues

When bad news comes, many viewers avert their eyes, and the second quarter of 2010 was full of bad news. The war in Afghanistan is not going well, the stock market is tanking and the Gulf oil spill continues to spread. Ordinarily one would think that the oil catastrophe would draw millions of eyeballs, but when no progress is made, and no one seems to know what to do about it, and we continue to see the same or similar pictures of oil gushing in the depths and birds and beaches turning brown at sea level, nobody wants to look at it anymore.

At least that's the only explanation I can think of for the significant decline in news viewing during the second quarter of 2010. Most folks would rather watch no news than bad news, and if it wasn't for "bad" we wouldn't be getting any news at all. Therefore, nothing I write below should surprise you.

The big news about cable news in the second quarter is that almost all of them lost viewers in almost every demographic category from 2009 levels. Worst hit was, of course, CNN -- down 31% (268,000 viewers) in primetime. FoxNews lost 10% (224,000 viewers) in primetime, Headline News was down 4% (13,000 viewers) and MSNBC actually gained 1% (or 2,000 viewers). MSNBC's relatively good showing in total audience growth may have been attributable to its 33% gain in 2-11 year olds. In the last quarter, there were 8,000 of them, up from 6,000 in 2009.

In primetime demographics, among 18-49 year olds each of the networks took a big hit -- FoxNews and MSNBC were both down 16%, while CNN lost 31% of its viewers and Headline News dropped 29%. In 25-54s, FoxNews was down 9%, MSNBC 11%, CNN 27% and Headline News 23%. In both demos, the CNN networks did far worse than their competitors. The 18-34 news audience is so small it doesn't really count, but even there every one of the networks lost at least 30% of its viewing.

Total day was pretty much the same story -- CNN lost 27% (159,000 viewers) and FoxNews lost 9% (131,000 viewers). Headline was down only 4%, and MSNBC actually gained 1%. CNN lost at least 20% in all the other demographics, while Fox lost only 8% in 25-54s and between 10% and 15% in 18-49s and 18-34s. MSNBC was down about 5% and Headline News about 10%.
It's a sad day when hundreds of thousands of FoxNews viewers, who seem to relish bad news when it's happening under Democrats, avert their eyes from the horrors of the second quarter news cycle. Everybody's got the blues.