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

By A.J. Katz 

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Fox News Channel was the most-watched basic cable network in September, averaging 2.49 million total viewers in primetime and 1.46 million in total day.

No other cable net managed to average more than 1 million viewers in total day or 2 million in primetime.

Relative to the prior month (August), Fox News grew +1% in average total prime time audience and +2% in adults 25-54 during primetime. In total day, Fox gained +3% in average total viewers and +1% in adults 25-54.


MSNBC slipped from No. 2 in August among total viewers, to No. 3 in September, both in total day (716,000) and in primetime (1.27 million). Despite falling from No. 2 to No. 3, MSNBC grew its average total primetime audience by +3% from August. However, it shed -7% of its A25-54 audience in primetime, -2% in total day viewers and lost -14% of its total day demo audience vs. August.

Lifted by Monday Night Football, ESPN rose to No. 2 in total viewers, both in primetime (1.98 million) and total day (747,000).

Back over to cable news — CNN ranked No. 8 in average total primetime viewers (791,000) and No. 5 in average total day viewers (576,000) for the month of September. Compared to the prior month, CNN shed -3% of its average total primetime audience, -4% of primetime demo viewers, -7% in total day viewers and -7% among total day demo. The decline among younger news viewers was expected, as August had been a relatively nice month for CNN among adults 25-54, lifted by its Afghanistan conflict coverage.

After Fox News, ESPN and MSNBC, HGTV was the fourth-most-watched basic cable network in primetime for the final month of the third quarter. TLC, Hallmark, INSP, CNN, USA and TBS rounded out the top 10. Fox, ESPN, MSNBC and Hallmark were the top 10 networks that actually saw total primetime audience growth from August.

Fox News, ESPN, MSNBC, HGTV, CNN, Hallmark, INSP, ID, Food Network and USA are the 10-most-watched basic cable networks for September in average total day audience. Out of the top 10, Fox News, ESPN, Hallmark, and Food Network were up from August.

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 ranker for Sept. 2021:

Sept-21 Ranker (Total Viewers)

Carried by the NFL and college football broadcasts, ESPN was by far the No. 1 basic cable network for September among adults 25-54. Fox News took second place in primetime and total day. In primetime, ESPN and Fox were followed by TBS, NFL Network, TNT, USA, TLC, HGTV, Food Network and Discovery. CNN ranked No. 16 in the primetime demo, while MSNBC ranked No. 22.

Among adults 25-54 in total day, ESPN and Fox News were followed by HGTV, Food Network, ID, TNT, TBS, USA, CNN and Comedy Central round out the top 10. MSNBC ranked No. 27 in September.

Below, the basic cable network ranker for Sept. 2021:

Sept. ’21 (Adults 25-54)