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Zimmerman verdict gives U.S. cable networks rare Saturday boost

George Zimmerman stands when the jury arrives to deliver the verdict as his attorneys Mark O'Mara (L) and co-counsel, Don West (2nd L) and L
George Zimmerman stands when the jury arrives to deliver the verdict as his attorneys Mark O'Mara (L) and co-counsel, Don West (2nd L) and L

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - About 10.6 million people tuned in Saturday night to U.S. cable news networks to watch the verdict in George Zimmerman's murder trial, boosting viewership in a usually slow time slot, according to early figures obtained by Reuters on Monday.

The four major networks, which aired gavel-to-gavel coverage of the three-week trial, each pulled in more than 1 million viewers when the verdict was announced around 10 p.m. EDT.

The networks typically average fewer than 650,000 viewers over the course of the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot on Saturday.

Florida neighborhood watchman Zimmerman, 29 and part Hispanic, was acquitted of murdering 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin in a case that has roused intense feelings on gun control and race in the United States.

Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's Fox News Channel drew the largest audience with about 3.7 million viewers during the 10 o'clock hour, according to Nielsen data.

Time Warner Inc-owned CNN was watched by 3.4 million, while its sister network HLN drew 2.2 million viewers in the same time frame. Comcast Corp's MSNBC pulled in an audience of 1.3 million.

CNN, which had been languishing in the ratings, was most popular in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic most sought after by advertisers as some 1.7 million viewers in that group tuned in for the verdict.

Breaking news events, however, traditionally carry less value because networks' live coverage rarely take commercial breaks.

Fox News Channel was also the top network during the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET live coverage time slot, with an average of 2.7 million viewers, ahead of CNN with 2.4 million.

Fox News Channel has about 629,000 viewers on average during that time slot, while MSNBC places second with an average of 469,000 viewers and CNN third with 384,000 average viewers.

CNN started behind HLN in third place during the early stages of the Zimmerman trial but rose to second place with an average of 656,000 viewers during the hours the trial was shown live. Fox News Channel was in first throughout the trial with an average of 1.04 million viewers during the same daytime hours.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)

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