MSNBC, the Network of The Resistance, Is Rising

The NBCU channel had a record-breaking quarter

Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity has the most viewers on cable news, followed by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Getty Images
Headshot of A.J. Katz

For years, MSNBC was a middle-of-the-road basic cable network, ratings-wise.

That’s no longer true, thanks in large part to President Trump.

Led by progressive opinion hosts Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC has become an outlet millions of Americans, who brand themselves as The Resistance, have been increasingly turning to.

The NBCU network just wrapped up a record-breaking quarter in total viewers in every key daypart and for every hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays. MSNBC averaged 1.9 million total prime time viewers in Q1 2018, up 30 percent from Q1 2017. It is the No. 2 cable network, right behind Fox News Channel, whose playbook MSNBC has borrowed from in recent years.

Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s top personality, had the No. 1 show on cable news among adults 25-54, which is the demographic TV news advertisers covet. The 664,000 adults 25-54 who tuned into her program on a typical week night in Q1 2018 represents the network’s largest quarterly delivery ever. Her ratings have rubbed off on 10 p.m. host Lawrence O’Donnell. His show, The Last Word, also delivered its largest demo audience ever.

The network’s morning show, Morning Joe, with its heaping servings of Trump-hash, with a side of policy, is beating its CNN morning show rival. In late nights, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, which began as an experiment two months before the election, is now winning its timeslot outright.

While MSNBC is garnering a lot of attention for its ratings growth right now, Fox News has been the most-watched cable news network for a whopping 65 consecutive quarters, since 2002.

Sean Hannity had the most-watched show on cable news, while Tucker Carlson continues to dominate the 8 p.m. hour and Laura Ingraham, despite recent controversies, earned more total viewers than her 10 p.m. cable news competition.

Additionally, Fox News still managed to claim 14 of the top 20 cable news programs in total viewers and 12 of the top 20 in the advertiser-friendly 25-54 demo. The network actually lost viewers from the same quarter in 2017, though its audience remains as devoted to the network as any on TV.

CNN touts its ratings in the adults 25-54 category, which is the demographic that matters most to TV news advertisers. This past quarter, CNN managed to defeat MSNBC in the 25-54-year-old demographic across the 6 a.m. – 6 a.m. time period, as well as on weekends. But the network couldn’t match its competitors during prime time hours. It finished Q1 in third place behind both Fox News and MSNBC.


@ajkatztv aj.katz@adweek.com A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.