Basic Cable Ranker: Fox News and ESPN Were the Top 2 Networks for the Week of Dec. 30

By A.J. Katz 

According to live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen, Fox News ranked No. 2 across basic cable last week in prime time and in total day. FNC finished runner up to ESPN, which received a significant ratings lift from its college football bowl broadcasts, including the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, as well as from its NFL Wild Card broadcast this past Saturday afternoon.

Hallmark Channel finished a distant 3rd in total viewers behind ESPN and FNC.

MSNBC fell to 5th place in prime time and 4th place in total day. CNN finished 8th in prime time, aided by its annual New Year’s Eve Live broadcast, and 6th in total day viewers.


CNN averaged more adults 25-54 than MSNBC in prime time and in total day, while MSNBC finished ahead of CNN in average total audience.

MSNBC and CNN’s ratings were lower than usual this past week, perhaps due to the holiday (although that didn’t seem to hamper Fox News, as we’ll show below). MSNBC was -26% in prime time viewers, and -23% in total day viewers compared to the year-ago week. The network struggled even more among the A25-54 demo, -35% in prime time and -32% in total day. CNN was only -2% in prime time viewers, but -11% in total day viewers. The network was -23% in the prime time demo, and -16% in the total day demo, which likely means that the network’s New Year’s Eve Live special didn’t do so hot relative to the previous one.

Despite the year-over-year drop, CNN and MSNBC managed to snag a spot in the basic cable top 10. Pretty good.

Still, the week in cable news belonged to Fox News. The network posted +33% total viewers growth in prime time, and +27% total viewers growth in the total day daypart. The network also posted +23% growth in the prime time demo and +19% growth in the total day demo from last year. Guess the decision not to air a New Year’s Eve special paid off from a ratings standpoint.

One of the most notable cable news ratings trends for the week had to do focused on FNC’s The Five. The network’s long-running panel show has been delivering significant audiences lately, and managed to beat out The Rachel Maddow Show in total viewers for the 6th consecutive week. The Five also edged Maddow last week in the A25-54 demo, 407,000 to 403,000.

MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams was the most-watched cable news program last year in the 11 p.m. hour, but Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream finished No. 1 in the timeslot last week. Will that be a harbinger of things to come in 2020? That remains to be seen.

On Thursday, Jan. 2nd and Friday, Jan. 3rd, Hannity was the most-watched non-sports cable telecast, followed by presentations of Tucker Carlson Tonight. Airings of Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, The Ingraham Angle and Special Report with Bret Baier made up 10 of the top 30 cable telecasts in total viewers.

The momentum carried over to the weekend. FNC’s Justice With Judge Jeanine was the most-watched cable news show of the weekend, delivering 2.2 million viewers on Jan. 4.

Basic Cable Top 5 – Prime Time Viewers

  1. ESPN (4,803,000)
  2. Fox News (2,169,000)
  3. Hallmark Channel (1,335,000)
  4. A&E (1,234,000)
  5. MSNBC (1,176,000)

Basic Cable Top 5 – Total Day Viewers

  1. ESPN (1,998,000)
  2. Fox News (1,442,000)
  3. Hallmark (790,000)
  4. MSNBC (746,000)
  5. HGTV (683,000)