Here Are the Top-Rated Basic Cable Networks for Oct. 2021

By A.J. Katz 

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data for the month of October, Fox News Channel was the most-watched basic cable network in total day, averaging 1.40 million viewers across the 6 a.m.-6 a.m. daypart. FNC finished No. 2 in total primetime viewers in October (averaging 2.3 million) after taking first place in September. Who took first place in October? That would be ESPN, carried by its highly-rated broadcasts of Monday Night Football.

Compared to Sept. 2021,  Fox News lost -8% of its average total prime time audience and -14% in adults 25-54 during primetime (344,000). In total day, Fox shed -4% in average total viewers and -7% in adults 25-54 (224,000).

Despite these declines, FNC continues to average more total viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.


Speaking of MSNBC, when it came to average total primetime viewers, NBCU’s cable news network slipped in the basic cable rankings from No. 3 in September and No. 4 in October (1.2 million on average). MSNBC shed -5% of its average total primetime audience from September, and -8% of its A25-54 audience in primetime (140,000). MSNBC remained No. 3 across basic cable in total day viewers (680,000). The network shed -5% of its average total day audience from September, and -6% of its audience from the total day demo (78,000).

CNN ranked No. 12 across basic cable in average total primetime viewers (661,000) and No.7 in average total day viewers (487,000) for the month of October, after ranking No. 8 in primetime and No. 5 in total day the previous month. Relative to September, CNN shed -16% of its average total primetime audience, -26% of primetime demo viewers (136,000), -15% in total day viewers and -20% among total day demo (101,000).

CNN beat MSNBC when it came to adults 25-54 in total day. However, MSNBC beat CNN in primetime (average total viewers and adults 25-54) as well as in average total viewers in total day.

After ESPN, Fox News, TBS (carried by the MLB Playoffs) and MSNBC, Hallmark Channel was the fifth-most-watched basic cable network in primetime for the first month of the fourth quarter. FS1, HGTV, TLC, INSP and NFL Network rounded out the top 10. Networks televising major sporting events—ESPN, TBS, FS1 and NFL Network—and holiday movie-themed network Hallmark Channel were the top 10 networks in the daypart that actually saw total primetime audience growth from September. The others were down month-to-month.

Fox News, ESPN, MSNBC, TBS, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, CNN, INSP, ID and Food Network are the 10-most-watched basic cable networks for October in average total day audience. Out of the top 10, sports-focused network TBS was the only one up in total day viewers from September.

Again, this is according to live-plus-same-day data. It’s worth noting that the majority of entertainment-focused cable networks judge their viewership based on time-shifted data. News and sports tend to be exceptions.

Below, the basic cable network rankers for Oct. 2021:

Oct. ’21 Ranker (Total Viewers)