The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Al Jazeera, Fox log biggest audience jumps during Egypt crisis

February 17, 2011 |  6:08 pm

AlJazeera Al Jazeera English and Fox News appear to be the winners in terms of audience expansion during the recent crisis in Egypt. Other news  outlets that usually gain in such big international crises, like CNN, got a more modest bump as they covered the events leading to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's government.

In the week (ending Feb. 6) before Mubarak stepped down, Al logged 727,000 unique visitors in the United States, according to the Internet tracking outlet That's about five times more readers (and viewers, given the site's streaming video) than the cable outlet had in a similar week a year earlier, when it logged 154,000 uniques.

Readers/viewers of the site praised the immediacy it brought to the action in Tahrir Square in Cairo and its ability to sample opinions from the crowd, even when the security situation made it too dangerous for some Western-based news operations to be out among the crowds, which included a particularly violent element supporting the regime.

Fox News also got a bump in its prime-time ratings, with an average of nearly 2.4 million viewers watching from 8 to 11 p.m. the week ending Sunday, Feb. 13. (Mubarak resigned Feb. 11.) During a week in early January before the crisis, by way of comparison, Fox averaged a little under 2 million viewers during the same time slots.

Second-place cable news outlet MSNBC, by contrast, saw its audience decline slightly in the same comparison--from 985,000 to 929,000. And CNN got a slight boost--from 712,000 to 739,000. CNN has traditionally seen bigger increases in viewership during big breaking news events.

It's hard to compare those figures to the three broadcast networks--NBC, ABC and CBS--which draw the biggest audiences for any single regular news show. All three of the network evening news programs appeared to be down fractionally during the week the Egypt crisis culminated, compared to a week in early January.

Regular nightly leader NBC Nightly News, with Brian Williams, drew just under 10 million viewers on average for the week ending Feb. 13. (During the week ending Jan 16, for comparison, the Williams-anchored news had drawn 10.5 million a night.) The ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer hit 8.8 million people that same week (down from the January week of more than 9.1 million) and the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric brought in 6.4 million (compared to more than 7.1 in the earlier week.)

--James Rainey


Photo: The logo of Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel is seen in Doha. The channel was launched 15 years ago by the Gulf Arab state's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani with the goal of providing the sort of independent news that the region's state-run broadcasters had long ignored. Al Jazeera first grasped the enormity of the Tunisia uprising and its implications for the region, which soon spread to Egypt and other countries. Credit: Fadi Al-Assaad /  REUTERS