Despite breaking late on a weekend evening, the verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman attracted an audience of more than 10 million viewers to cable news networks, a huge total for a Saturday night.
Preliminary ratings showed that for the hour from 10 to 11 p.m. when the verdict came in, Fox News and CNN both attracted more than 3 million viewers, while MSNBC trailed badly with only about 1.3 million.
Fox had the highest number, 3.68 million viewers, just ahead of CNN with 3.4 million. But CNN outpaced Fox News among the viewers that television advertisers pay most to reach, those between the ages of 25 and 54. In that category, CNN had 1.72 million viewers to 1.11 million for Fox News. MSNBC had only 510,000.
MSNBC actually finished in fourth place overall, also coming in behind CNN’s sister network HLN, which is known for covering criminal trials. HLN had 2.2 million total viewers for third in that category and 980,000 in the 25-54 group, which also placed it third.
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The viewership total of 10 million represented a massive increase from the Saturday night audience a week earlier, when only about 1.6 million viewers watched the same four cable news channels.
The Pew Research Center released a study Monday on public interest in the Zimmerman trial, labeling the level of national interest only modest, despite the near wall-to-wall coverage that the trial received over the past several weeks on the cable news channels.
In the survey, 26 percent of respondents said they had watched news about the trial closely. Interest was much higher last March when news of the shooting of Martin was heavily covered. At that time, 35 percent said they were following the event closely.
Pew also found that interest broke sharply along racial lines, with 56 percent of blacks saying they were following the trial closely as opposed to only 20 percent of white respondents.
Pew reported that some other racially charged news events it had studied showed higher national percentages of close interest, including the arrest of O.J. Simpson in 1994 (48 percent) and the riots that followed the acquittal of police officers accused of assaulting Rodney King in 1992 (70 percent).