The cable news numbers are in

THE CABLE NEWS NUMBERS ARE IN…. To note that the Republicans’ cable news network is out in front of its competitors is an understatement. In 2010, Fox News had more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

But that no longer seems especially interesting. Indeed, it’s pretty predictable — Fox News has cornered the market when it comes to offering misleading, partisan propaganda that leaves its viewers more ignorant than if they received no information at all. It’s been this way for quite a while.

Jay Bookman digs a little deeper, though, and finds some interesting related data.

MSNBC beat CNN for the second straight year among viewers 25-54, and for the first time beat CNN among total primetime viewers as well. The numbers for CNN are truly abysmal, not only compared to Fox and MSNBC, but compared to its own numbers of a year ago. Total primetime viewers of CNN fell by 34 percent compared to 2009.

However, Fox viewership fell as well, declining 7 percent in primetime and 8 percent among primetime viewers in the 25-54 demographic. And to put things in some perspective, “The O’Reilly Factor” drew an average of 3.2 million viewers a night. That makes him the king of cable news talk, but well behind network news shows. With roughly 1 percent of America watching, his numbers also put him well behind cable competitors such as his show’s spiritual cousin, World Wrestling Entertainment, and Spongebob Squarepants on Nickelodeon, both of which often pull 5 million or more viewers.

In addition, “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert both regularly outdraw O’Reilly among the younger demographic sought by advertisers. In fact, it’s striking how old the O’Reilly audience skews (3.2 million average audience, just 781,000 of them between 25 and 54.)

CNN has to realize that its status quo is untenable. It has some credible programming — Anderson Cooper really isn’t bad — but if there was ever a line-up in need of a major overhaul, this is it.

As for O’Reilly, I knew his audience was older, but I didn’t realize just how skewed his audience really is. Long term, that’s not really a recipe for success, either.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.