The Casey Anthony murder trial proved to be a boon for HLN. Led by Nancy Grace's obsessive coverage of "Tot Mom" and America's fascination with the case, CNN's tabloid-minded cable franchise nearly tripled its total viewers in July compared to the same month last year. The network also doubled its pool of prime-time viewers, while topping both its parent company CNN and MSNBC for second place—behind Fox—on cable news.
Every HLN show saw ratings increases in July, including Grace's 8 p.m. program (up 98 percent in total viewers, 89 percent in the coveted 25-54-year-old demographic) and the 4 p.m. (up 352 percent) and 5 p.m. (318 percent) hours of "HLN News"—when viewers were turning in for daily updates on the trial.
On July 5, more than 5.2 million viewers tuned in to HLN between 2 pm and 3 pm, to learn that the Orlando, Fla., jury found Anthony not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, according to Nielsen estimates--HLN's best-ever ratings ever for a single hour. Roughly 2.9 million were watching Fox News during the long-running trial's apex, with 2.3 million tuning into CNN and 920,000 viewing MSNBC. (In June, HLN topped MSNBC in Monday-Friday primetime, total day and every hour of dayside programing in June for both total viewers and viewers in individual demographics, with the exception of the total viewers in the 9 a.m. hour.)
HLN's second-place finish—coupled with Fox News' sizable lead—took some of the bite away from MSNBC president Phil Griffin's presentation at the Television Critics Association yesterday. "For the first time we're beginning to chip away at Fox News Channel," Griffin said.
While it's true that MSNBC has beaten Fox in selected hours this year, FNC remains the outsized king of the cable news race. Fox—which has been on top for more than nine years—still owns the top five shows ("The O'Reilly Factor," "Hannity," "Special Report With Bret Baier," "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren," "The Fox Report With Shepard Smith") in terms of total viewers, and four of the top five among 25-to-54-year-olds.
The only non-Fox show to crack the top five in July? Nancy Grace.