Bloomberg News

Boston Manhunt Kept U.S. Viewers Riveted to TVs for Latest News

April 20, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombings and ensuing manhunt kept Americans riveted to the television, radio and the Internet this week as they followed the latest developments.

The news cycle gained momentum in the final 24 hours after one of the two brothers suspected in the April 15 bombings was killed in a confrontation with police. Police yesterday captured his 19-year-old brother in Watertown, Massachusetts.

“You don’t want to be too far away from your news feed, whether it’s on TV or online, because you don’t want to miss anything,” Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia University Journalism School, said in an interview.

Viewers flocked to Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, the top U.S. cable-news channels, which switched to near-constant coverage of the investigation and manhunt for those responsible.

CNN’s average daily audience this week soared to 1.05 million viewers from 356,000 last week, according to Nielsen data supplied by New York advertising agency Horizon Media. Fox News, the most-watched cable-news outlet, jumped to 1.64 million from 1.11 million. MSNBC rose to 514,000 from 374,000.

Citizen Input

Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three, including an 8-year-old boy, a 29-year- old woman and a Chinese graduate student.

Early yesterday, Boston police killed one suspect, 26-year- old Tamerlan Tsarnaev. His brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, escaped on foot, and was at large for much of yesterday. News crews staked out a home in Watertown, about 8 miles west of Boston, where he was reported to be hiding in a boat before his capture.

“We have people working around the clock on this story,” Jeff Schneider, an ABC News spokesman, said in an interview during the manhunt. “That’s what you do in these situations.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had called on citizens to help them identify two suspects in the attack, drawing viewers in further to their TV and computer screens.

The newsgathering spilled into digital services such as Twitter, Facebook and the online community Reddit, which tried to identify the suspects. People even plugged into police scanners online, sharing the latest updates.

“At what point is it news and what point is it entertainment?” Grueskin asked. “What you see is the state of interest in big breaking stories but rarely does that story gets translated to real, mass journalism.”

The nonstop reporting included some errors, including CNN saying on April 17 that authorities had arrested a suspect. CNN’s John King had to retract the original report, saying, “Anyone who says an arrest is ahead of themselves.” The Associated Press and the Boston Globe also reported arrests had been made.

CNN’s Gains

CNN saw the biggest percentage increase in viewers, helped by a reputation for breaking news that it cultivated during the first Gulf War. It remained behind Fox News overall. CNN lost its lead in 2002 and has struggled to find a formula that can consistently hold viewers. CNN President Jeff Zucker, the former chief of NBC Universal, has been retooling the network since last year.

“CNN has been there for our audience in every possible way -- on television, online and on our mobile platforms,” Zucker told employees in a memo, Politico reported. “These are the times that define what we do and why we do it.”

Shares of Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US), the New York-based owner of CNN, gained 2.2 percent to $59.75 yesterday in New York. News Corp. (NWSA:US), the parent company of Fox News, rose 2.5 percent to $31.21, while NBC parent Comcast climbed 1.4 percent to $40.56.

Suspects’ Father

Nielsen estimates there are 114.2 million U.S. television households in total, including about 100 million who subscribe to cable or satellite services.

After law enforcement began a manhunt for the suspects and put much of the Boston area on lockdown, the broadcast networks began continuous coverage, beginning with the morning programs. ABC News, part of Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US), switched over yesterday morning, Schneider said.

ABC’s Bianna Golodryga was the first reporter to interview the suspects’ father, Anzor Tsarnaev, from his home in Makhachkala, Russia. He urged his surviving son to turn himself in to police.

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, as well as CNN’s Anderson Cooper, saw big audience increases among individual cable programs, according to Nielsen data.

‘O’Reilly Factor’

“The O’Reilly Factor,” the most-watched cable news program, saw its audience jump 77 percent on April 15 from a week earlier, according to Nielsen data. The show averaged 4.83 million viewers, the biggest audience on cable that night, compared with 2.73 million a week earlier, Nielsen data show.

On that date, “Hannity” had 4 million viewers, “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” drew 2.87 million, and CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” attracted 2.96 million, according to Nielsen data. That placed the shows among the top 10 most watched programs on cable that evening. None of them ranked in the top 40 a week earlier.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net; Edmund Lee in New York at elee310@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net; Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net


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