Hey, remember the funeral for Fox News around this time last year? With Barack Obama taking over the White House, it was curtains for Bill O'Reilly and Chris Wallace and Shep Smith and those guys. This was a new America. Chris Matthews even bragged that the crowd at Obama's inaugural was there almost as much to celebrate MSNBC as the new top dog in cable news. "This is the network of the 21st century, MSNBC," Matthews boasted. "I think we're open to it. And that's why this crowd knows us." Matthews was actually kind of a late arrival at the funeral; some talking heads, like Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, had already been predicting the demise of Fox News for a year: "When the GOP catches a cold, everybody at Fox News gets sick."
Well, it didn't quite work out that way. As the final days of 2009 dwindle away, the Nielsen numbers say Fox News had its best year ever, increasing both its viewing audience and its market share, while CNN and MSNBC both shrank:
** Fox News' average weekday audience jumped 15 percent to 1.33 million. CNN's dropped 14 percent to 636,000; MSNBC's 13 percent to 432,000. The trend was even more pronounced in the 25-to-54 age demographic that newscasters value -- the Fox News demo ratings were up 18 percent, while both CNN and MSNBC lost more than a quarter of their audience.
** The Fox News share of the viewing audience increased 6 percent; CNN's fell 3 percent, MSNBC's 2 percent.
** The top 10 cable news programs were all on Fox News.
With Fox News marking its eighth consecutive year as the most-watched news network, the ratings race has become so lopsided that it's not really a race at all. As the No. 4 network in all of cable, Fox News' real competitors are entertainment channels like USA and Nickelodeon -- not CNN and MSNBC, which don't even rank in the top 20.