2018 Ratings: MSNBC Was the Only Top 25 Cable Network to Post Double-Digit Audience Growth

By A.J. Katz Comment

For the fourth consecutive year, MSNBC posted total audience growth. I’m not sure how many networks can say that these days, particularly in this era of cord-cutting.

In 2018, the Comcast-owned, politics-focused cable network was the third-most-watched basic cable network in prime time, and posted +10 percent growth in the daypart. It was the second-most-watched basic cable network across the 24-hour day for 2018, and posted +12 percent growth in the daypart versus the network’s 2017 year-end ratings.

Its competitors couldn’t match that feat. In fact, no other basic cable network in the Top 25 was able to post double-digit increases from the previous year.

Additionally, no cable network averaged more African-American and Asian-American viewers this year than MSNBC.

MSNBC averaged 254,709 African-American viewers in 2018, No. 1 across all of basic cable and +2 percent from 2017.

The network averaged 84,000 Asian-American viewers in prime time from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 7, 2018, which is also No. 1 across basic cable.

MSNBC was the No. 2 basic cable network among Hispanic viewers in 2018, ahead of CNN, ESPN and Fox News.

While there are nice stories for MSNBC to tell, the story isn’t quite as nice when it comes to its performance among viewers under 55. Versus its 2017 performance, MSNBC was -5 percent among adults 25-54 in prime time, and -3 percent in the demo across total day in 2018.

MSNBC lagged behind both Fox News and CNN in the 25-54 age range across the 24-hour day, drawing fewer than 200,000. The network finished No. 3 behind its rivals in the demo, weekdays from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Below are the final 2018 Nielsen live+same day numbers:

  • Prime Time (Mon-Sun): 1,802,000 Total Viewers /  352,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  994,000 Total Viewers / 197,000 A25-54

In terms of MSNBC programming, Morning Joe delivered its largest annual audience ever, drawing an average of 1.1 million viewers in 2018. That’s the closest MSNBC has been to Fox News in the 6 – 9 a.m. time period since 2002.

And despite beaming in remotely for what seemed like a good chunk of 2018, Morning Joe grew for the fourth year in a row, something its cable news competitors couldn’t match.

The 11th Hour with Brian Williams had a standout 2018, beating its 11 p.m. cable news competition in total viewers for the second consecutive year. The 11th Hour beat CNN for the second consecutive year, but was edged by Fox News @ Night in the A25-54 demo.

The Rachel Maddow Show posted year-to-year audience growth, and finished No. 2 across basic cable, both in total viewers and among adults 25-54.

Nielsen Cable News Ratings for 2018 (01/01/18-12/30/18) vs. 2017 (12/26/16-12/31/17)

Prime time:

MSNBC: 1,802,000 total viewers (+10 percent); 352,000 A25-54 (-5 percent)

Fox News: 2,434,000 total viewers (+1 percent);  463,000 A25-54 (-5 percent)

CNN: 988,000 total viewers (-6 percent); 323,000 A25-54 (-12 percent)

 

Total Day:

MSNBC: 994,000 total viewers (+12 percent);  197,000 A25-54 (-3 percent)

Fox News: 1,425,000 total viewers (-5 percent);  282,000 A25-54 (-12 percent)

CNN: 706,000 total viewers (-9 percent); 214,000 A25-54 (-16 percent)

 

Here’s MSNBC’s press release:

 MSNBC CAPS OFF RECORD YEAR AS THE #1 CABLE NEWS NETWORK IN PRIME FOR DECEMBER
MSNBC’s Breaking News & Analysis Leads to Network’s Best Year Ever for 3rd Straight Year Across All Key Dayparts
MSNBC Beats CNN, Posts Largest Lead Over CNN Across “Morning Joe” (M-F 6-9am), Dayside (M-F 9am-5pm), Prime (M-F 8-11pm), and Total Day (M-Su 6am-6am)
MSNBC is the Fastest-Growing Top 10 Cable Network, Posts 4 Straight Years of Growth
MSNBC Ranks #2 Across All Cable in Dayside, Prime, and Total Day Among Total Viewers
“Morning Joe,” With Record Year, Tops 1M Total Viewers, Doubles CNN
MSNBC Dayside & Total Day Deliver 1M Total Viewers for 1st Time in MSNBC History, Dominates CNN
“The Rachel Maddow Show” is the #2 Program on Cable News
“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” is #1 in Total Viewers at 11pm for 2nd Straight Year with MSNBC’s Best Ratings Ever in the Hour
Every Hour of MSNBC Weekday Programing from 5am-3am Beat CNN in Total Viewers
MSNBC Weekend Completes Record Total Viewer Year
MSNBC.com Achieves Strongest Year Ever
NEW YORK (December 19, 2018) – MSNBC capped off its 3rd consecutive record ratings year as the #1 cable news network in prime (M-F 8-11pm) for December, according to Nielsen. December to-date (11/26-12/17), MSNBC prime was #1 in both A25-54 and total viewers. December marked the 1st month ever in which MSNBC prime beat both FOX News and CNN in A25-54 and total viewers, averaging 438K viewers A25-54 (vs. CNN’s 362K and FOX News’ 407K) and 2.51M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.3M and FOX News’ 2.47M). “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm was the #1 show across all cable news for December, averaging 573K viewers A25-54 (vs. CNN’s 375K and FOX News’ 424K) and 3.1M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.3M and FOX News’ 2.7M). “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm also won their hours in both A25-54 and total viewers.
2018 year to-date, MSNBC dominated CNN in total viewers and led to the network’s best year ever across all key dayparts and almost every weekday hour. This marked MSNBC’s largest-ever lead over CNN with “Morning Joe” (M-F 6-9am), dayside (M-F 9am-5pm), prime (M-F 8-11pm) and total day (M-Su 6am-6am). MSNBC is the fastest-growing Top 10 cable network among total viewers, posting four straight years of growth and ranking as the #2 most-watched cable network across those key dayparts.
For the 1st time in MSNBC history, dayside and total day both averaged 1M total viewers for the year, easily topping CNN. MSNBC, which underwent a strategic shift to focus on breaking news during dayside, posted significant growth in dayside as well as in total day. MSNBC dayside averaged 1M total viewers in 2018, leading CNN (818K) by a record 212K viewers; CNN has never broken the 1M barrier for a year. MSNBC dayside also narrowed the gap with FOX News as 2018 marked the closest MSNBC has been to FOX News in the daypart since 2002. MSNBC dayside ranked #2 across all cable in total viewers, beating #3 Nickelodeon and #4 CNN. In total day, MSNBC’s 1M total-viewer average beat CNN (706K) for the 2nd year in a row, leading CNN by a record 289K viewers; CNN has never broken the 800K barrier for a year. MSNBC total day also ranked #2 across all cable in total viewers, besting #4 HGTV and #7 CNN.
MSNBC prime continued to dominate CNN in 2018, scoring record total viewer ratings for the 2nd year in a row with 2.3M viewers, almost doubling CNN (1.2M). This was the closest MSNBC has been to FOX News since 2001. MSNBC prime has beaten CNN for 25 straight months among total viewers. MSNBC was the only cable network in the Top 25 to post double-digit growth over 2017 in total viewers. MSNBC also topped CNN for the 2nd straight year in A25-54, topping CNN with its largest lead ever. MSNBC prime ranked #2 across all cable in total viewers, beating #3 ESPN and #8 CNN.
“Morning Joe” delivered an annual record of 1.1M total viewers, doubling CNN (576K), which has never broken the 700K barrier. This was the 1st time ever that “Morning Joe” delivered more than 1M viewers, and the closest MSNBC has been to FOX News since 2002. “Morning Joe” grew for the 4th year in a row, the only cable news program in its timeslot to do so. In total viewers, “Morning Joe” has topped CNN for 46 straight months; in A25-54, “Morning Joe” has topped CNN for 14 straight months. “Morning Joe” achieved record annual ratings in A25-54 for MSNBC during the 6-9am timeslot, with 229K viewers in the key demographic (vs. CNN’s 188K).
“The Rachel Maddow Show” ranked as the #2 program across all cable news in both A25-54 and total viewers for the year. In the program’s 4th straight year of growth, “The Rachel Maddow Show” averaged 2.9M total viewers, more than double CNN (1.1M) and topping CNN for the 9th year in a row in a record year for MSNBC at 9pm. In A25-54, “The Rachel Maddow Show” averaged 582K viewers with a record lead over CNN (369K).
“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” was the #1 cable news program for 2018 in total viewers at 11pm, beating FOX News and CNN for the 2nd straight year. “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” averaged 1.6M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 813K and FOX News’ 1.5M), a record for MSNBC in the hour and almost doubling CNN. In A25-54, “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” also topped CNN in A25-54 for the 2nd year in a row (326K vs. CNN’s 286K) and was the closest to FOX News since 2000.
Every hour of MSNBC weekday programming from 5am-3am beat CNN in total viewers, including: “Morning Joe First Look” at 5am for the 1st year ever; “Morning Joe” at 6am for the 9th straight year; “MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle” at 9am for the 2nd straight year (delivering 1M average annual total viewers for the 1st time ever); “MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson” at 10am for the 2nd straight year; “MSNBC Live” at 11am (anchored by Velshi & Ruhle until 9/24 and now anchored by Craig Melvin) for the 2nd straight year; “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at 12pm for the 2nd straight year; “MSNBC Live” at 1pm (anchored by Craig Melvin until 9/24 and now anchored by Velshi & Ruhle) for the 1st year ever; “MSNBC Live with Katy Tur” at 2pm for the 1st year ever; “MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi” at 3pm for the 1st year ever; “Deadline: White House” at 4pm for the 1st year ever; “MTP Daily” at 5pm for the 2nd straight year; “The Beat with Ari Melber” at 6pm for the 2nd straight year; “Hardball with Chris Matthews” at 7pm for the 9th straight year; “All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm for the 2nd straight year; “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm for the 9th straight year; “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm for the 9th straight year; and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” for the 2nd straight year. MSNBC at 5am, 6-9am, 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, and 11pm posted record ratings for the year in total viewers. Many hours of MSNBC weekday programming also had a record year in A25-54, including: 6-9am, 9am, 10am, 11am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm.
On weekends, “AM Joy” at 10am on Saturdays and Sundays posted all-time highs in total viewers for MSNBC in its 3rd straight year of growth. “AM Joy” topped CNN for the 2nd year in a row on Saturdays (1.1M vs. CNN’s 816K) and for the 1st year ever on Sundays (929K vs. CNN’s 873K). “Kasie DC” at 7pm on Sundays posted record total viewer ratings, averaging 703K and beating CNN in the program’s 1st full year on air. MSNBC weekend total day (Sa-Su 6am-6am) posted record ratings for the 2nd year in a row following the network’s shift toward breaking news coverage on the weekends in late 2017. MSNBC narrowed the gap with CNN and was up +7% with an average of 559K total viewers during weekend total day.
Since 2014, MSNBC’s average annual total viewer ratings have grown tremendously. In dayside, MSNBC’s average annual growth was +30%, more than doubling CNN (+12%) and quadrupling FOX News (+7%) in annual growth since 2014. In prime, MSNBC’s average annual growth was +27% (vs. CNN’s +15% and FOX News’ +7%) and in total day, MSNBC’s average annual growth was +23% (vs. CNN’s +12% and FOX News’ +7%). MSNBC’s annual growth since 2014 in A25-54 also beat out CNN and FOX News across all three key dayparts.
MSNBC.com is on pace for a record year in digital video starts, up +30% over 2017 in monthly video starts, according to comScore (multiplatform, Oct. 2018). Viewers also spent more time watching MSNBC.com video per month, up +40% over 2017 to an average of over 56 minutes per viewer, more than double CNN.com (25 minutes) and more than triple FOXNews.com (18 minutes).
NOTE: 2018 year-end ratings are based on Nielsen Live+Same data day for 1/1/18-12/17/18. December 2018 ratings are based on Nielsen Live+Same data day for 11/26/18-12/17/18. Individual show data represents regular programming only, excluding specials, election night and breaking news.
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