May 2021 Ratings: MSNBC Remains Second-Most-Watched Network on Cable, But Struggles to Draw Adults 25-54

By A.J. Katz 

MSNBC viewership continues to fall in the Biden era, as expected. Yet, despite the ratings decline, it remains the second-most-watched network on cable television. That was unheard of during the prior Democratic administration.

In May 2021, MSNBC averaged nearly 1.5 million total viewers (No. 2 on basic cable), but just 199,000 adults 25-54 in prime time. That represents a -6% dip in total prime time viewers, and a -12% drop among adults 25-54 in prime vs. the previous month (April 2021). In total day, MSNBC averaged 835,000 total viewers (also No. 2 on basic cable), and 108,000 viewers in the demo. That’s a drop off of -12% in total viewers, and -22% in the demo during total day.

Additionally, MSNBC shed -22% of its total prime time audience, -32% of its A25-54 prime time audience, -28% of its total day viewership, and was -39% in the total day demo from May 2020.


It’s worth remembering that MSNBC presented continuous coverage of nationwide protests spurred by the police murder of George Floyd last May. That coverage delivered big ratings for the network.

The year-over-year ratings trend for MSNBC (and its competitors) isn’t pretty, and that will likely continue to be the case as we approach summer, pending some sort of wild breaking news event.

Additionally, MSNBC continues to out-perform CNN in all dayparts when it comes to average total viewers, but finished third behind both Fox News and CNN among adults 25-54, the demo that matters most to advertisers of news.

The average Nielsen live + same day impressions for May 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 1,494,000 total viewers / 199,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun): 835,000 total viewers / 108,000 A25-54

The Rachel Maddow Show remained the fourth-most-watched show on cable news in May, but dropped to 5th among adults 25-54. It finished fourth among A25-54 in April.

TRMS was the No. 2-ranked cable news show in the 9 p.m. hour, ahead of Cuomo Primetime, but behind Hannity.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and All In with Chris Hayes finished the month at No. 7 and No. 10, respectively, in total viewers.

Both were ranked No. 2 in their respective hours (10 and 8 p.m.) among total viewers, but finished third behind Fox News and CNN in the key A25-54 demo.

Additionally, Deadline White House with Nicolle Wallace (No. 11) remained the most-watched cable news program in the 4 p.m. hour.

Here’s MSNBC’s press release for May 2021, where it continues to stress beating CNN in average total viewers:


“Morning Joe” Again More Than Doubles CNN’s Total Audience, Tops CNN in Total Viewers for the 75th Straight Month and A25-54 for the 43rd Straight Month 

“The Rachel Maddow Show” is #1, Dominating FOX News for the 6th Month in a Row and Topping CNN for the 96th Month in a Row

MSNBC Weekday Prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) Dominates CNN Among Total Viewers and A25-54, Ranks #2 in Cable TV

Dayside (M-F 9am-4pm), Prime (M-Su 8pm-11pm), Total Day (M-Su 6am-6am) All Rank #2 Across All of Cable 

MSNBC Digital Outpaces CNN Politics in Video, Finishes #1 in the Politics Sub-Category for 26 Consecutive Months

MSNBC Tops All Cable Networks in African American Viewership 

Viewers Watch MSNBC Full Day (M-Su 6am-2am) for an Average 350 Minutes Per Week, More Than CNN

NEW YORK (June 2, 2021) – MSNBC dominated CNN across every weekday hour in May, finishing as the #2 ranked network across all of cable television, according to Nielsen. In May, MSNBC excelled with the network’s solid and on-the-spot breaking news coverage of May’s key news stories, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America’s reopening, policy negotiations on Capitol Hill, and more.

MSNBC’s weekday perspective and analysis programming propelled weekday prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) to #2 in all of cable television for the 4th straight month (ahead of #3 HGTV, #4 ESPN and #6 CNN). Weekday prime also beat CNN in both total viewers and A25-54. MSNBC drew 2M total viewers during weekday prime (vs. CNN’s 1M) and 267K viewers in A25-54 (vs. CNN’s 254K).

During total day (M-Su 6am-6am), MSNBC finished #2 across all cable networks for the 3rd month in a row (ahead of #3 HGTV, #4 CNN and #5 ESPN) drawing 844K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 616K). May marks the 4th straight month that MSNBC has topped CNN among total viewers. In A25-54, total day averaged 110K viewers.

Prime (M-Su 8pm-11pm) ranked #2 among all cable networks for the 5th straight month while CNN finished #7 (#3 HGTV and #5 ESPN). Prime averaged 1.5M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 942K) and 205K A25-54 viewers.

Dayside (M-F 9am-4pm) topped CNN during every hour of hard news programming with an average of 802K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 715K). Viewers turned to MSNBC’s breaking news coverage during dayside, which finished #2 across all of cable television (ahead of #3 CNN, #4 HGTV and #11 ESPN). In A25-54, dayside averaged 103K viewers.

“Morning Joe” from 6am-9am again more than doubled CNN’s total audience with 982K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 472K) and dominated CNN for the 75th month in a row. “Morning Joe” ranked #2 across all of cable in both total viewers and A25-54. In A25-54, “Morning Joe” averaged 126K viewers, easily topping CNN’s 116K for the 43rd month in a row. “Morning Joe” also leads cable news among diverse audiences. “Morning Joe” ranks #1 across all of cable television among African American viewership (243K), ahead of #31 FOX News (19K) and #2 CNN (150K). Across cable news, “Morning Joe” also ranks #1 among Hispanic audiences.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm continues to beat FOX News’ “Hannity” at 9pm with 2.64M total viewers (vs. FOX News’ 2.62M and CNN’s 1M). This marks the 6th straight month that “Maddow” has finished #1 at 9pm in total viewers and the 96th straight month beating CNN. In A25-54, “Maddow” ranked #2 averaging 368K viewers (vs. CNN’s 243K) — the largest lead over CNN since Sept. 2020.

Every hour of MSNBC’s weekday programming (5am-3am) topped CNN in total viewers, including: “Way too Early with Kasie Hunt” at 5am for the 4th straight month; “Stephanie Ruhle Reports’’ at 9am for the 52nd straight month; “Hallie Jackson Reports” at 10am for the 4th straight month; “Craig Melvin Reports” at 11am; “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at 12pm; “MTP Daily” at 1pm; “Katy Tur Reports” at 2pm; “Ayman Mohyeldin Reports” at 3pm; ‘“Deadline: White House” from 4pm-6pm (“Deadline was also #1 at 4pm among total viewers), topping CNN for the 47th straight month; “The Beat with Ari Melber” at 6pm for the 13th straight month; “The ReidOut” at 7pm for the 4th straight month; “All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm for the 4th straight month; “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm for the 72nd straight month and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm for the 58th straight month. On Saturdays, “VELSHI” at 8am; “The Cross Connection” at 10am and “Weekends with Alex Witt” from 12pm-3pm also topped CNN for the month.

Across all of cable networks, MSNBC was the #1 network in African American viewership (ahead of #2 CNN and #47FOX News) in full day (M-Su 6am-2am) through 5/27/21.

Viewers watched MSNBC for more minutes per week than CNN. During full day (M-Su 6am-2am), viewers watched MSNBC for an average 350 minutes per week (vs. CNN’s 190 minutes). During prime (M-F 8pm-11pm), viewers watched MSNBC for an average 197 minutes per week (vs. CNN’s 133 minutes).

MSNBC has held the #1 position in the Politics Sub-Category for 26 consecutive months in both video views and total minutes, according to ComScore through April 2021. MSNBC has averaged 143M monthly video views in 2021, far outpacing CNN Politics (77M) and Fox News Politics (21M). MSNBC video viewers have watched for an average 37 minutes in 2021, +86% longer than CNN Politics and more than double Fox News Politics.

NOTE: May ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for 4/26/2021-5/30/2021. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.

ComScore Multiplatform Video Metrix, January – April 2021, ComScore Politics News/Information Sub-Category.