Here Are the Top-Rated Basic Cable Networks for Q2 ’21

By A.J. Katz 

Fox News Channel finished the second quarter of 2021 as the most-watched network on basic cable, not only in prime time but also across the 24-hour daypart.

FNC averaged 2.18 million total viewers in the Monday-Sunday 8-11 p.m. daypart, and 1.19 million total viewers in the Monday-Sunday 6 a.m.-6 a.m. daypart, after finishing third behind both Fox News and CNN in total day viewers the previous quarter (Q1 2021).

Fox also averaged 347,000 adults 25-54 in prime time and 204,000 in total day in Q2 ’21, more than CNN and MSNBC and placing it among basic cable’s top five.

The aforementioned MSNBC was the second-most-watched network on cable television for the quarter in total day (847,000), after finishing No. 1 in the daypart in Q1. It fell to No. 3 in total prime time viewers (1.46 million), finishing behind Fox News and TNT, the latter of which benefited from its prime time broadcasts of the NBA Playoffs.

CNN finished No. 6 on basic cable in average total prime time viewers (914,000) after finishing the first quarter No. 3 in the measurement. CNN dropped from No. 2 in total day viewers in Q1, to No. 3 in Q2 (654,000). However, it continues to beat MSNBC in the key adults 25-54 demo, doing so in both in prime time (224,000 vs. 198,000)  and total day (160,000 vs. 115,000).

How did cable news’ big three fare in Q2 relative to the news-heavy Q1? Fox News shed -12% of its average total prime time audience, -11% of its audience from the prime time demo, -10% of its total viewers in total day, and just -8% from the total day demo.

Fox lost viewers from the previous quarter, but its losses were far less severe than what CNN and MSNBC experienced, and that’s why the network was able to regain its No. 1 ranking among total viewers and adults 25-54 in all key dayparts.

MSNBC shed -35% of its average total prime time audience, and -46% of its audience from the prime time demo,  -38% in total day viewers and -47% in the total day demo relative to Q1 2021.

After a monumental Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 on the ratings front, CNN came back down to Earth in Q2 ’21. The network shed -53% of its average total prime time audience, -57% of its audience from the prime time demo, -51% in total day viewers and -54% in the total day demo from Q1 2021.

Below, the 10-most-watched basic cable networks for Q2 2021, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data.

PRIME TIME (Total Viewers)

  1. Fox News (2,176,000)
  2. TNT (1,528,000)
  3. MSNBC (1,463,000)
  4. ESPN (1,325,000)
  5. HGTV (1,209,000)
  6. CNN (914,000)
  7. TBS (909,000)
  8. History (821,000)
  9. Discovery (805,000)
  10. Hallmark Channel (800,000)

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

  1. Fox News (1,190,000)
  2. MSNBC (847,000)
  3. CNN (654,000)
  4. HGTV (645,000)
  5. ESPN (582,000)
  6. TNT (556,000)
  7. ID (472,000)
  8. Food Network (447,000)
  9. Hallmark Channel (444,000)
  10. INSP (426,000)

Here’s the full Nielsen-measured cable network ranker, sorted by average total viewers:

Q2 ’21 basic cable network ranker (Total Viewers)

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