The morning after the Democratic primary debate on Feb. 21, while both sides argued over who had come out ahead, there was one clear winner: CNN. The debate, broadcast by CNN and Univision, the Spanish-language network, drew 7.6 million viewers, one of the biggest audiences ever for a primary debate on a cable network.
All three cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News and MSNBC -- have enjoyed ratings bumps during the primaries. But CNN is able to brag about something it had not been able to since 2001: it topped Fox News in the prime-time ratings for a single month in the 25 to 54 age category, the group most coveted by advertisers.
In February, CNN attracted an average of 750,000 viewers in that category during prime time, compared with 550,000 for Fox News and 363,000 for MSNBC, according to Nielsen. (Across all age groups Fox News remained No. 1, with an average of 2.2 million viewers in prime time, compared with 2 million for CNN.)
Time Warner does not disclose finances for CNN, but according to a source familiar with CNN's performance, the network has posted a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20 percent since 2004. Over that time, profits have grown from about $200 million to almost $400 million a year.