Here Are the Most-Watched Basic Cable Networks for Q3 2021

By A.J. Katz 

As we noted in yesterday’s standalone stories on Q3 cable news ratings, Fox News Channel finished the third quarter of 2021 as the most-watched network on basic cable, not only in prime time but also across the 24-hour daypart. This is according to live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen, not time-shifted data.

FNC averaged 2.37 million total viewers in the Monday-Sunday 8-11 p.m. daypart, and 1.36 million total viewers in the Monday-Sunday 6 a.m.-6 a.m. daypart, after finishing No. 1 the previous quarter (Q2 2021).

Fox also averaged 377,000 adults 25-54 in prime time and 227,000 in total day in Q3, more than CNN and MSNBC and placing it among basic cable’s top five in the measurement.

The aforementioned MSNBC was the second-most-watched network on cable television for the quarter in total day (737,000), after finishing No. 2 in the daypart in Q2. It improved to No. 2 on basic cable in total prime time viewers (1.27 million) in Q3, despite losing viewers from Q2. MSNBC moved past TNT, which had finished second in primetime in Q2, thanks to its NBA Playoffs coverage. However, TNT dropped to No. 10 in Q3 without the playoffs. MSNBC once again averaged a larger total audience in CNN across dayparts.

Among all basic cable network, CNN finished No. 8 in average total prime time viewers (822,000) in Q3 after having finished No. 6 in Q2 and No. 3 in Q1.  CNN dropped from No. 3 in Q2 among total day viewers to No. 4 in the daypart (598,000). Despite these declines, CNN remains a top 5 network in total day, and continues to beat MSNBC in the key adults 25-54 demo, doing so in both in prime time and in total day.

How did cable news’ big three fare in Q3 relative to Q2? Fox News, lifted by its wall-to-wall coverage of the Afghanistan conflict across dayparts, improved by +9% in average total prime time audience, +9% of its audience from the prime time demo, +14% in total day total viewers, and +11% in the total day demo. Fox improved upon its Q2 performance, while CNN and MSNBC continue to fall after scorching-hot starts to 2021.

MSNBC shed -13% of its average total prime time audience, -19% of its audience from the prime time demo, -17% in total day viewers and -18% in the total day demo relative to Q2 ’21.

CNN shed -10% of its average total prime time audience, -16% of its audience from the prime time demo, -9% in total day viewers and -19% in the total day demo from Q2 ’21.

Below, the 10-most-watched basic cable networks for Q3 2021, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data.

PRIME TIME (Total Viewers)

  1. Fox News (2,372,000)
  2. MSNBC (1,267,000)
  3. ESPN (1,224,000)
  4. HGTV (1,091,000)
  5. TLC (896,000)
  6. USA (869,000)
  7. Hallmark (841,000)
  8. CNN (822,000)
  9. INSP (817,000)
  10. TNT (778,000)

TOTAL DAY (6 a.m.-6 a.m.)

  1. Fox News (1,358,000)
  2. MSNBC (738,000)
  3. HGTV (604,000)
  4. CNN (598,000)
  5. ESPN (538,000)
  6. Hallmark (468,000)
  7. ID (453,000)
  8. USA (445,000)
  9. INSP (438,000)
  10. Food Network (422,000)

Q3 ’21 (Average Total Viewers)

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