6:20 p.m. ET UPDATE:
An estimated 56.9 million people tuned in to watch coverage of the 2020 U.S. presidential election during prime time on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
While coverage varied by network, 21 networks aired live coverage from 8-11 p.m. ET.
The 56.9 million includes the sum of the average total viewership, and this figure, unlike in previous election nights, includes out-of-home (OOH) viewing as well as connected TV (CTV) viewing. Contribution coming from CTVs can be as much as 11% for televised political events.
ORIGINAL POST (4:10 p.m. ET)
The 2020 presidential election featuring President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden has yet to be be decided.
But what can be decided (at least according to early data from Nielsen), is that Fox News was the most-watched cable news network for full coverage of 2020 election night, drawing 13.6 million viewers in prime time, and 10.5 million viewers in the 6 p.m.-3 a.m. common cable news coverage period.
This marks back-to-back presidential elections that the cable news juggernaut has finished as the most-watched cable network on election night.
Not only was Fox News No. 1 on election night, but its 13.6 million total viewer count represents a network and cable news election night audience record.
The network also ranked No. 1 among adults 25-54, edging CNN by a small margin (which we’ll show below).
CNN, to its credit, was the No. 2 network for election night coverage, beating rival MSNBC and all of the broadcast networks, both in total viewers and among adults 25-54.
MSNBC took third place, both in total viewers and among adults 25-54.
How was election night 2020 viewership relative to election night 2016?
According to preliminary data from Nielsen, 51 million total viewers and 20.3 million adults 25-54 watched prime time coverage of election night 2020 across 9 Nielsen-measured networks (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, FBN, CNBC).
The 50.6 million preliminary total from Nielsen is down -20% compared to 2016, down -16% compared to 2012, and down -22% in total viewers compared to election night 2008.
Additional data will trickle in later and the numbers should adjust up a bit, but still, not a great performance relative to recent elections.
The big three cable newsers (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC) averaged more viewers in prime time than their broadcast news counterparts. The aforementioned trio were down a combined -3% in total viewers vs. 2016, whereas the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) were down a combined -40% from 2016.
Below, the prime time audience figures broken down by network.
Election 2020 (8 p.m.-11 p.m.) | Total Viewers / A25-54 demo
FNC– 13,638,000/ 4,901,000
CNN– 9,084,000/ 4,444,000
MSNBC– 7,310,000 / 2,381,000
ABC – 6,095,000 / 2,283,000
NBC– 5,792,000 / 2,567,000
CBS– 4,344,000/ 1,663,000
FOX – 3,278,000 / 1,608,000
FBN – 647,000 / 193,000
Newsmax – 413,000 / 111,000
CNBC: 117,000 / 44,000
ABC beat NBC and CBS in total viewers on Election Day for the first time since the 2008 edition. NBC, on the other hand, averaged more adults 25-54 than ABC and CBS.
Fox News and MSNBC, both cable networks, were the only networks which delivered audience growth from 2016, +13% and +28%, respectively. It appears election night audiences turned to the network whose coverage more closely aligns with their ideology, considering cable beat broadcast handily.
Roughly 23.4 million people stayed tuned in to the cable news networks from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. (We’ll add in the broadcast numbers when we get them.)
- Election 2020 (6 p.m.-3 a.m. common coverage) | Total Viewers / A25-54 demo
FNC – 10,533,000/ 3,853,000
CNN – 6,771,000/ 3,312,000
MSNBC – 5,404,000/ 1,739,000
FBN – 554,000 / 156,000
Newsmax – 403,000 / 117,000
CNBC – 105,000 / 33,000
It should be noted that the 2016 election was called for Trump at around 2:30 a.m. ET on Nov. 9, 2016. The 2020 election of course has yet to be called for either candidate.
Lastly, for reference, the 2016 election night numbers, broken down by network.
- Election 2016 (8 p.m.-11 p.m.) | Total Viewers
FNC – 12,112,000
CBS – 8,088,000