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Why Glenn Beck Is Really The Most Watched Cable News Host

Glenn Beck is an absolute phenomenon on cable news – in his first year at Fox News, his ratings have skyrocketed, he’s appeared on the cover of Time and convinced one Mediaite writer he’ll be the next Oprah Winfrey.

But his program’s ratings still put him behind Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity most months in total viewers. Here’s why that’s not exactly true.

One of the ratings categories for broadcast TV is the share data, which is defined by Nielsen as: “The percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station or network in a specific area at a specific time.” (Put another way – it’s the percentage of people watching that particular channel at that particular hour, based on the total number of people watching TV at the time.) It’s used by broadcast TV, but never for cable TV – the reason being the ratings are usually so small compared to all of television the share average would be negligible.

Well not so for Fox News. We took a look at the cable ratings from 5-11pmET using the Persons Using Television (PUT) average to determine the share ratings for last week’s cable programs. And when weighted based on this average, Glenn Beck’s 5pmET show comes out on top by a significant margin.

Beck has a 5.5% share in total viewers, compared to O’Reilly at 8pmET with 4.6%, Hannity at 9pmET with 3.9% and Greta Van Susteren at 10pmET with 3.4%. In the A25-54 demographic, the breakdown was similar: Beck – 4.1%, O’Reilly – 3.1%, Hannity – 2.5%, Greta – 2.1%. (By comparison, no other cable news network reached higher than 1% share at any of those hours.)

These percentages are pretty remarkable for all of the big FNC anchors, but specifically for Beck. 5.5% of all people watching TV (broadcast and cable) were tuned to his 5pm show last week. A cable news show. Now last week happened to be an especially good week for Beck, anchored by his Communism special on Friday. Friday was his best ratings ever in both categories, and he had the top cable show in the 5pm hour in both categories as well.

But the point remains – while Bill O’Reilly continues to add to his total of consecutive months as the #1 cable news show, Beck’s ratings are better when factoring in the amount of viewers watching on all of television.

Beck appears regularly on O’Reilly’s program, and he’s currently in a joint “Bold And Fresh” speaking tour with him. They very publicly get along. But a Huffington Post story this week raised the idea of “angst amongst O’Reilly’s camp” over a poll putting Beck ahead of O’Reilly in most popular TV personality.

Who really knows? It’s an issue Don Imus brought up last week, putting Beck on the spot with some uncomfortable questions about timeslots and ratings and his FNC colleagues. Beck joked his way through most of it. But the one thing we know is Beck’s ratings are unprecedented, and at 5pmET, out of the key prime time area, they appear even more spectacular.

Here’s the Imus/Beck interview last Friday:

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