In Total Day, Q1 2020 Was MSNBC’s Most-Watched Quarter Ever

By A.J. Katz 

Cable news set all types of ratings records in Q1 2020, primarily driven by the impeachment trial of Pres. Trump (remember that?), as well as coverage of the Democratic party presidential parties, and most recently the recent wall-to-wall coverage of COVID-19 pandemic.

Q1 2020 was a record-setting quarter for MSNBC. The network posted 1.1 million viewers in total day, the largest average audience ever in the 6 a.m.-6 a.m. Monday-Sunday daypart for the network. MSNBC also averaged 1.93 million viewers in prime time.

Compared with Q1 2019, which was MSNBC’s most-watched quarter up until now, the network was +1% in total day, and up >1% in total prime time viewership.


The network delivery was even stronger among Adults 25-54 relative to last year, +9% in the prime time demo, but -1% in the total day demo.

Despite the impressive delivery in the demo relative to Q1 2019, MSNBC finished behind CNN (and Fox News) in the advertiser-preferred measurement Adults 25-54. However, it did finish ahead of CNN in Total Viewers.

Here are MSNBC’s ratings for Q1 of 2020:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 1,928,000 total viewers / 340,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  1,095,000 total viewers / 181,000 A25-54

On the programming front, The Rachel Maddow Show, which was the second-most-watched cable news program last year in Q1, finished No. 6 on cable news in Total Viewers this past Q1. It dropped to No. 7 in the demo this past Q1 after finishing No. 1 on cable news in the demo, Q1 a year ago.

That said, TRMS finished ahead of CNN in Total Viewers for the 42nd consecutive quarter, and in Adults 25-54 for the 13th consecutive quarter.

In the cable news landscape, MSNBC had six of the 20-most-watched shows for Q1: TRMS, The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, All in With Chris Hayes, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, Deadline: White House, and The Beat With Ari Melber.

MSNBC also had two of the top 20 cable news shows among Adults 25-54 (TRMS and The Last Word).

For more information about MSNBC’s Q1 2020 ratings performance, here’s the network’s press release:

During a quarter dominated by major breaking news headlines, including a historic impeachment trial, presidential primary and debate coverage and the global coronavirus pandemic, MSNBC delivered the highest-rated quarter in network history among total viewers during total day (M-Su 6am-6am), prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) and weekends (Sa-Su 6am-6am), according to Nielsen data for the 1st quarter of 2020.

  • MSNBC was the #2-rated cable network in total viewers across key dayparts. MSNBC total day (M-Su 6am-6am) averaged a record-breaking 1.1M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 911K), ahead of CNN as the #2 cable network for the 5th quarter in a row (ahead of #3 CNN, #4 HGTV and #5 ESPN).
  • Dayside was #2 for the 7th straight quarter, averaging 1.2M total viewers (ahead of #3 CNN and #4 HGTV).
  • MSNBC prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) posted its best total-viewer delivery (2.5M) in the time period since 1Q19, ranking #2 among all cable networks (ahead of #3 ESPN and #4 CNN), beating CNN for the 16th straight quarter. In A25-54, MSNBC prime posted its best delivery since 3Q18 with 438K viewers.
  • During the month of March, MSNBC covered the coronavirus outbreak from all angles and beat CNN during dayside, prime and total day among total viewers. For total day (M-Su 6am-2am) more than 60M people turned to MSNBC for news and analysis, the most since January 2017, and more than 30M people watched MSNBC during dayside, the most since 2008.
  • “Morning Joe” doubled CNN’s total viewership at 6am with an average 1.16M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 585K) and an average 191K A25-54 viewers (vs. CNN’s 159K). “Morning Joe” ranked #2 in all of cable for the time period beating CNN for the 20th quarter in a row in total viewers and the 11th straight quarter in a row in A25-54.
  • “The Rachel Maddow Show” was the #2 program at 9pm in cable news, besting CNN for the 42nd straight quarter and averaging 3.1M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.4M). In A25-54, “Maddow” averaged 543K viewers (vs. CNN’s 412K) besting CNN for the 13th straight quarter.
  • “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm topped CNN for the 14th consecutive quarter in total viewers and the 12th consecutive quarter in A25-54. “The 11th Hour” averaged 1.8M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 928K) and 319K viewers in A25-54 (vs. CNN’s 308K). “The 11th Hour” ranked #2 among cable news networks in A25-54 and total viewers.
  • Every hour of MSNBC’s weekday programming from 5am-3am at CNN in total viewers during the 1st quarter of 2020.
  • For the 1st quarter of 2020, MSNBC had the network’s highest-rated weekend in total viewers for total day and during live news hours in network history, averaging 787K (Sa-Su 6am-6pm) and 744K (Sa-Su 6am-2am).

NOTE: 1Q 2020 ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for 12/30/19-3/29/20. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.