A hunger for information is driving TV news to peak levels

Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Lukasiewicz believes viewers of broadcast network news are also likely looking for a depoliticized take on the coronavirus crisis, as cable news channels often toggle from straight reporting to partisan commentary, especially in prime time.

On cable, CNN has seen the largest percentage increase overall and among viewers aged 25 to 54 who are less likely to watch cable news during quieter times. While CNN also has its share of opinionated talking head commentators, it still benefits from being the longest running brand name in cable news.

"It's synonymous with news and I'm sure that's a long halo effect from which they continue to benefit," Lukasiewicz said.

Cable news channels are also seeing audience lifts during the day when the coronavirus task force holds its daily briefings from the White House.

Some veteran journalists and cable hosts such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow have criticized the decision to run the briefings live and unfiltered due to the amount of misinformation delivered by Trump during the lengthy and at times ramshackle sessions.

On Monday, all of the networks but Fox News pulled away when they determined no new information was forthcoming. All of the news divisions said they will continue to run the briefings, deciding on a case by case basis if they are newsworthy enough to stay with them for the duration.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily press conferences on the crisis, which have been widely praised in the press, have also delivered spikes in the Nielsen numbers. On Monday and Tuesday, Cuomo's sessions averaged 6.7 million viewers on cable news, more than double the usual level.


The viewing surge is occurring even as news divisions take extreme measures to protect the health of their employees. Many anchors are broadcasting from home and handling their own hair and make up as a number of staff members across the networks have tested positive for the COVID-19, including an NBC News technician who died last Thursday.

The closing of the New York studio of CBS News forced "CBS Sunday Morning" to air from the network's bureau in Los Angeles. Substitute host Lee Cowan presented the program in front of a low-tech spare black background, but it attracted 6.82 million viewers, the most since 1994.

Other Sunday morning news programs have seen surges as well, with "Face the Nation" scoring 5.14 million viewers on March 22 for CBS -- the largest audience since Feb. 1991. NBC's "Meet The Press" averaged 5 million viewers across NBC and MSNBC, the highest since Dec. 2008.

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