February 2021 Cable Network Ranker: Fox News, MSNBC and CNN Can All Lay Claim to Being No. 1

By A.J. Katz 

Cable news continues to haul in the largest audiences on a monthly basis.

Fox News, MSNBC and CNN were the top basic cable networks for February 2021 (according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data), a month driven by news coverage of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the first full month of the Biden administration and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Fox News averaged just under 2.5 million total prime time viewers in February 2021, No. 1 across basic cable. The network came in third in total viewers behind rivals CNN and MSNBC the previous month.


Fox News also averaged 365,000 adults 25-54 in prime time, 1.3 million total viewers across the 24-hour day, and 210,000 demo viewers across the 24-hour day. Compared to MSNBC and CNN, Fox News shed a smaller percentage of its total audience from the prior month (hence the jump from No. 3 in January to No. 1 in February). However, Fox lost viewers from the year-ago month. MSNBC and CNN, on the other hand, grew their respective audiences from the year-ago month.

MSNBC, for the first time in network history, averaged more total viewers than any other cable network across the 24-hour day, just under 1.4 million. The network averaged the second-largest prime time audience behind Fox News (nearly 2.2 million), but fell behind both CNN and Fox News when it came to drawing adults 25-54, drawing 340,000 in prime time and 206,000 in total day.

CNN had a massive January, finishing No. 1 across all of cable TV not just in the key adults 25-54 demo, but also in total viewers, both in prime time and in total day. February 2021 was a “good news, bad news” type of month, comparatively speaking. While the network marked back-to-back months as the most-watched basic cable network in the A25-54 demo (and 4 consecutive months at No. 1 on cable news in the demo), it fell behind both Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers. CNN shed a large percentage of its January audience, but added the greatest number of viewers from a year ago. February 2021 is also officially the network’s highest-rated February in its history.

What about the rest of the cable landscape? There’s more to cable than just the news networks, after all.

HGTV was the fourth-most-watched basic cable network for the month, per live-plus-same-day data. Hallmark, TNT, History, ESPN, Discovery, TBS and Food Network round out the top 10 in average total prime time viewers.

In average audience across the 6 a.m.-6 a.m. day, HGTV and Hallmark also took the 4th and 5th spots, followed by Investigation Discovery, Food Network, TNT, History and INSP.

Here’s the February 2021 basic cable ranker, sorted by average total viewers in descending order:

February 2021 Basic Cable Ranker (Total Viewers)