Japan earthquake and tsunami coverage drives huge traffic gains for CNN and Fox News

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The cable news networks saw huge traffic gains Friday as viewers and online users sought updates on the earthquake and tsunami that brought devastation to parts of Japan.

Between 10:12 p.m. and midnight Los Angeles time Thursday, when news of the 8.9 temblor was first developing, CNN averaged 767,000 total viewers, a 173% surge over the 281,000 the network has been averaging during that time period in recent months, according to the Nielsen Co.


During that same period Thursday night, Fox News averaged 671,000 viewers, for a 46% spike.

Friday will go down as one of the top 5 traffic days of all time for the website, a network spokeswoman said. And that terrifying clip of the tsunami oozing across farmland, lifting trucks, houses and flaming debris (see it here), was Fox’s top clip in the last two years.

Meanwhile, the networks are pulling out the stops with special tsunami-related programming this weekend. CNN is blowing out its usual Saturday lineup with wall-to-wall disaster coverage. Fox pre-empted Glenn Beck’s 5 p.m. show Friday for a news special hosted by Shepard Smith. The network also dispatched reporters Adam Housley, David Piper and Greg Palkot to Japan, where they’ll begin reporting Saturday.

Sun rises on a devastated Japan day after quake and tsunami

Watch terrifying tsunami videos here

-- Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)