Basic Cable Ranker: Week of Dec. 17

By A.J. Katz 

It was a remarkable week in the news, and as you might expect, that chaos had a huge impact on cable news ratings.

For the week of Dec. 17, Fox News Channel was the most-watched basic cable network across the 24-hour day, Monday through Sunday. That’s not exactly out of the ordinary for the cable news powerhouse.

Yet what was out of the ordinary, especially these days, is that FNC finished No. 4 in total prime time viewers, not only behind NFL and NBA-focused ESPN, but also behind Hallmark and yes, MSNBC.


According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Fox News was -27 percent in total day viewers, and -29 percent in total prime time viewers versus the comparable week last year.

MSNBC had an impressive week, finishing ahead of Fox News and CNN in prime time across the key measurements, including total viewers and among the advertiser-preferred Adults 25-54 demographic.

In fact, with only one week left in December, NBC’s politics-focused cable network is on track to finish the month as the No. 1 cable news network in prime time among Adults 25-54.

Let’s be honest – When there’s rough news swirling around the Trump administration, MSNBC thrives from a ratings perspective. Not only does Rachel Maddow often dominate, but the network’s dayside programming gets a lift as well.

An argument can be made that this past week was extra-ordinary, even by the standards of this administration. Newsy moments from the week of Dec. 17 included President Trump’s remarks that he would be pulling troops out of Syria; his defense secretary, James Mattis announced he was leaving the administration; the Dow plummeting, and the president voicing issues with funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Additionally, Sean Hannity was off the air last week, which didn’t help Fox News from a ratings perspective.Maddow, who had been beating the cable news competition head-to-head in recent weeks anyway, took full advantage of his absence.

In fact, it looks like she will be host of the No. 1 cable news program for the month of December, though it appears Hannity will finish the calendar year at No. 1.

But we’ll cross that bridge next week.

Despite MSNBC’s impressive performance, the network couldn’t achieve that ever-elusive No. 1 basic cable, finishing No. 3 in total prime time viewers, and No. 2 in total day viewers this past week. Compared to the same week in 2017, MSNBC was -5 percent in prime time viewers, yet +13 percent across the 24-hour day.

Fox News and MSNBC might be putting up extraordinary numbers right now, but CNN is more than holding its own as a top 10 basic cable network.

CNN posted an impressive +44 percent total viewer growth in prime time, and +31 percent tota viewer growth across the 24-hour day this past week vs. the comparable week last year.

Not only did CNN post double digit year-over-year growth in total viewers, but it was also cable news’ No. 1 network in the key A25-54 demo across the 24-hour day, and defeated Fox News in the A25-54 demo during prime time.

CNN REALLY benefited from the high octane news cycle last week.

Below is a look at the Top 5 basic cable networks for the week of December 17.

Prime Time (Total Viewers):

  1. ESPN (2,890,000)
  2. Hallmark Channel (2,069,000)
  3. MSNBC (1,975,000)
  4. Fox News (1,923,000)
  5. NFL Network (1,371,000)

Total Day (Total Viewers):

  1. Fox News (1,225,000)
  2. MSNBC (1,161,000)
  3. Hallmark Channel (1,081,000)
  4. ESPN (958,000)
  5. CNN (832,000)

Here’s a larger list showing basic cable network ratings performance for the week of Dec. 17.

Click on the “+” to zoom in.

Basic Cable Ranker: Week of. Dec. 17, 2018