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Osama bin Laden's death leads to huge boost in CNN and other news ratings

May 2, 2011 |  6:25 pm

Obama News of Osama bin Laden's death made Americans turn their dials to the cable news networks on Sunday night.

CNN, which tends to deliver its highest ratings in breaking-news cycles, led the cable race with 7.8 million total viewers during the 8 p.m. hour (Los Angeles time), when President Obama officially announced the death in a live national address, according to the Nielsen Co. Fox News Channel averaged 4.8 million and MSNBC 2.3 million.

Overall from 7 p.m. to midnight, CNN averaged 4.1 million viewers, up an astronomical 981% from its Sunday average the previous four weeks.

The picture among the broadcasters was a bit more unclear. NBC was the first big network to cut in to its regular programming, with a special report around 7:45 p.m. Los Angeles time that preempted the final minutes of Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” on the East Coast. Within minutes, all the networks had reported the death and were awaiting the White House statement.

NBC and CBS stayed with the story until about 9 p.m., at which point they returned to scheduled programs. ABC hung on to the story for another hour.

“We had substantially more reporting than some of our competitors so we had a lot to talk about,” said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, adding that the news division had conducted numerous drills for how to handle news of bin Laden’s death or capture.

The broadcast ratings will be inconclusive until Nielsen releases final numbers on Tuesday morning. But based on early results, CBS won the night with an average of 9.5 million total viewers. The night’s most-watched program was CBS’ “60 Minutes” (10.6 million viewers), which aired a highly publicized segment on the sexual assault of reporter Lara Logan by a mob in Egypt.

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— Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: President Obama on Sunday, announcing the death of Osama bin Laden. Credit: Jason Reed/Reuters.

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