2019 Ratings: MSNBC Is the No. 2 Basic Cable Network

By A.J. Katz Comment

MSNBC had an interesting 2019. It continued to deliver massive audiences, and for the 2nd consecutive year, more total viewers than any other basic cable network but one.

The network’s rise in recent years on the ratings front has been staggering. MSNBC was the 30th-most-watched network on cable television in 2014. Fast forward to 2019, and it’s No. 2. A remarkable achievement, anyway you slice it.

Among total viewers, MSNBC topped CNN in dayside (Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET) for the 2nd year in a row, in total day for the 3rd year in a row, and in weekday prime time, according to Nielsen.

Among adults 25-54, MSNBC beat CNN in prime time for the 3rd year in a row. However, it fell short to CNN once again in the total day demo (152,000 vs. 163,000).

MSNBC had also been giving Fox News a serious run for its money over the past 2 years among the younger demos, particularly in prime time. That momentum appears to have vanished in 2019.

Versus the midterm elections year of 2018, MSNBC was -21% in the prime time demo and -23% in the total day demo.

MSNBC was also -4% in total prime time viewership. Fox News, on the other hand, posted +2% growth in total prime time audience, and CNN was only -2% in total prime time audience from 2018. MSNBC was also -1% in total day viewers from 2018.

Below are the final 2019 Nielsen live+same-day numbers:

  • Prime Time (Mon-Sun): 1,734,000 Total Viewers / 278,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  981,000 Total Viewers / 152,000 A25-54

On the programming front — The Rachel Maddow Show slipped to 3rd place in the cable news ratings race for 2019, behind Fox Newsers Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and All in With Chris Hayes also tumbled a bit relative to 2018, though each easily beat CNN’s prime time slate in the ratings department.

Maddow remains the face of the network, but it was Nicolle Wallace who truly emerged as a cable news star in 2019.

Her weekday show Deadline: White House was the No. 1 cable news show in total viewers at 4 p.m., marking the 1st time that MSNBC was No. 1 in that time slot in any measurement. This is the 3rd year in a row that Deadline has set a record in total viewers and the 2nd time the annual average total audience has surpassed 1 million total viewers (1.56 million in 2019). In total viewers, Deadline was the only cable news program at 4 p.m. to grow over 2018 while CNN and Fox News were both down.

Brian Williams has quietly become a force at 11 p.m. His was the most-watched cable news show in the hour for the 3rd consecutive year, knocking off CNN Tonight and Fox News @ Night (though Fox finished ahead of MSNBC in the A25-54 demo). Nevertheless, In fact, since its premiere in 2016, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams has more than doubled its ratings, adding +830,000 total viewers. The program has added 63,000 adults 25-54 since 2016, while CNN and FNC have both shed demo viewers.

Then, there’s Morning Joe. It was another strong year for the morning show. MJ averaged its largest audience for the 4th straight year in 2019, with more than 1.1 million total viewers per original broadcast.  This was the 2nd time Morning Joe has delivered more than a million viewers, and the closest MSNBC has been to Fox News since 2001.

Lastly, there’s MSNBC’s notable move to live, breaking news on weekends, and away from taped entertainment programming in 2019. The move seems to havve paid off off. MSNBC averaged more total viewers in weekend prime time this year for the 1st time ever. Multiple shows beat CNN in total viewers on the weekends: AM Joy on Saturdays and Sundays; Weekends with Alex Witt on Saturdays; MSNBC Live with Kendis Gibson on Saturdays; MSNBC Live on Sundays at 4pm; and Kasie DC on Sundays averaged more total viewers than its CNN competitors.

MSNBC is hoping for a bounceback year in 2020, and it will likely have one  thanks to 2020 being a presidential election year. While growth in total prime time and total day viewers is likely, growth in the key demo is far from certain. As we noted in the CNN post, Americans under 55 are increasingly leaving traditional broadcast and cable television. While cable news does skew older than entertainment programming, it isn’t totally immune to the cord-cutting trend. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2020 on the ratings front, especially when it comes to attracting younger demos to election 2020 coverage.

Here’s MSNBC’s most-up-to-date 2019 year-end ratings press release, which was sent Dec. 20:

 MSNBC MARKS 5 STRAIGHT YEARS OF HISTORIC RATINGS; DOMINATES CNN FOR THE 3RD YEAR IN A ROW WITH SIGNIFICANT LEAD IN TOTAL VIEWERS
Dayside (M-F 9am-5pm) Commitment to Breaking News Propels MSNBC to the Closest the Network Has Been to FOX News Since 2001; Only Top 10 Cable Network to Grow Over 2018
Every Hour of MSNBC Weekday Programing from 5am-3am Beats CNN in Total Viewers
MSNBC Total Day (M-Su 6am-6am) Beats CNN for the Year with Record Lead in Total Viewers and Tops CNN for 34 Straight Months
MSNBC Prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) Total Audience Leads CNN By More Than 1.1M Viewers; Adds 892K Viewers Since 2016 While CNN Loses 279K Viewers
MSNBC is the #2 Cable Network in Dayside, Total Day, Prime and “Morning Joe” for 2nd Consecutive Year
“Morning Joe” (M-F 6am-9am) Tops CNN for the 10th Straight Year and Delivers 5th Straight Year of Record Ratings, with 1.1M Total Viewers Each Morning; Beats CNN in A25-54 for 2nd Straight Year
“The Rachel Maddow Show” Beats CNN in Total Viewers for the 10th Consecutive Year and in A25-54 for the 4th Consecutive Year
“Deadline: White House” Caps Off Record Year as the #1 Program in Total Viewers – A 1st for Any MSNBC Program in the 4pm Timeslot
“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” Dominates at 11pm, Ranking #1 in Total Viewers for the 3rd Year in a Row
“All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm Tops CNN in Total Viewers for the 3rd Straight Year and for the 2nd Straight Year in A25-54
“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm Beats CNN in Total Viewers for the 10th Year in a Row and in A25-54 or the 3rd Year in a Row
MSNBC Weekend (Sa-Su 6am-6am) Beats CNN in Total Viewers for the 1st Time Ever
MSNBC.com Achieves Record Year in Digital Video Starts
NEW YORK (December 20, 2019) – Ahead of the pivotal 2020 election year, MSNBC ended 2019 by dominating CNN as the #2 rated network in all of cable among total viewers and achieving the network’s 5th straight year of historic ratings across multiple dayparts. Among total viewers, MSNBC topped CNN in dayside (M-F 9am-5pm) for the 2nd year in a row, in total day (M-Su 6am-6am) for the 3rd year in a row, in early fringe (M-F 5pm-8pm) and prime (M-F 8pm-11pm), according to Nielsen.
For total day (M-Su 6am-6am), MSNBC ranked #2 in all of cable among total viewers for the 2nd year in a row, while CNN ranked at #7. MSNBC has beaten CNN in total day for 34 consecutive months. 2019 marked the 5th straight year that MSNBC broke a record in total viewer ratings, moving in rank from #30 in 2014 to #2 in 2019. Total day on MSNBC averaged 1M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 654K), the largest lead ever over CNN in total viewers (349K) and the closest average to FOX News (1.4M) since 2002. MSNBC total day was the only cable network in the entire Top 10 to grow from 2017, increasing total viewership by +12% while CNN (-16%) and FOX News (-6%) were both down. MSNBC was also up +64% since 2016 (the last election year), while CNN (-14%) was down and FOX News was flat.
MSNBC’s commitment to breaking news and analysis in dayside (M-F 9am-5pm) boosted the network to #2 across all of cable for the 2nd straight year, topping CNN during every single hour between 9am to 5pm. Ratings among total viewers in dayside have grown for five straight years, as MSNBC was the only Top 10 cable network to grow over this extended period over 2018 (+5% vs. FOX News’ -2% and CNN’s -7%). This year was also dayside’s strongest performance versus the competition, as the gap between MSNBC and FOX News narrowed to its smallest margin in the daypart since 2001. Dayside averaged 1.1M total viewers and continued to widen its lead over CNN to a record +327K. Since 2016, dayside ratings on MSNBC among total viewers has nearly doubled (+519K) while CNN (-14K) and FOX News (-6K) have both lost viewers.
MSNBC prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) was the #2 rated network across all of cable for the 2nd straight year, while CNN finished at #9. For the 3rd year in a row, prime surpassed the 2 million mark in total viewers, nearly doubling CNN’s total audience for the 2nd straight year (+1.1M over CNN). Prime added +892K viewers since 2016, while CNN has lost -279K viewers and FOX News only added +83K. In A25-54, MSNBC beat CNN in prime for the 3rd year in a row, leading by +65K viewers.
“Morning Joe” (M-F 6am-9am) hit a record rating for the 4th straight year in 2019, averaging 1.1M total viewers. MSNBC ranked #2 across all of cable in this daypart. This was the 2nd time “Morning Joe” has delivered more than 1M viewers, and the closest MSNBC has been to FOX News since 2001. It is the 5th straight year of growth for “Morning Joe.” Both FOX News (-2%) and CNN (-11%) are both down compared to 2018. For a decade, “Morning Joe” has dominated CNN in total viewers – now more than doubling CNN’s total audience (508K) and leading by a record of +584K viewers. CNN has never broken 700K total viewers on an annual basis, while more than 900K viewers have turned to “Morning Joe” on average each morning for three straight years. In total viewers, “Morning Joe” has bested CNN for 58 straight months, including every week in 2019. In A25-54, “Morning Joe” averaged 186K (vs. CNN’s 135K), topping CNN for 26 straight months. Across all cable networks in 2019, “Morning Joe” ranked #4 (ahead of #5 ESPN, #7 Nickelodeon and #8 CNN). “Morning Joe” has added +17K viewers in A25-54 since 2016, while CNN has shed -24K.
“The Rachel Maddow Show” capped the year as the #3 rated show across all of cable news. “Maddow” averaged 2.9M total viewers, more than doubling CNN’s total audience (1.1M) and beating CNN for the 10th year in a row. “Maddow” has added 1.4M total viewers since 2016, and nearly 2M since the show’s premiere in 2008. Since the last election year in 2016, the combined ratings gain of both CNN and FOX News (+553K) is approximately one-third that of “Maddow.” In A25-54, “Maddow” topped CNN for the 4th year in a row averaging 492K viewers (vs. CNN’s 283K).
“Deadline: White House” was the #1 cable news show in total viewers at 4pm, marking the 1st time that MSNBC was #1 in the time slot. This is the 3rd year in a row that “Deadline” has set a record in total viewers and the 2nd time the annual rating has surpassed 1M total viewers. “Deadline” averaged 1.58M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 870K and FOX News’ 1.47M), achieving the biggest lead ever over CNN (+712K). “Deadline” has beaten CNN for 27 straight months. In total viewers, “Deadline” was the only cable news program at 4pm to grow over 2018 (+13%) while CNN (-9%) and FOX News (-2%) were both down.
At 11pm, “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” ranked #1 in total viewers for the 3rd consecutive year, averaging 1.6M viewers per night. “The 11th Hour” led “CNN Tonight” by +911K, more than double CNN’s average viewership (716K). MSNBC also held a record lead over FOX News at +176K. Since its premiere in 2016, “The 11th Hour” has more than doubled its ratings, adding +830K total viewers, while both CNN (-88K) and FOX News (-28K) have lost viewers. “The 11th Hour” has topped CNN for 41 straight months. In A25-54, “The 11th Hour” topped CNN for 25 out of the last 27 months. “The 11th Hour” has added +63K viewers since 2016 while CNN (-77K) and FOX News (-104K) have both shed A25-54 viewers.
“All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm beat CNN in total viewers for the 3rd year in a row averaging 1.76M viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.06M). “All In” has added more than 660K total viewers since 2016, while CNN (-128K) and FOX News (-229K) have both lost viewers. In A25-54, “All In” ranked #2, averaging 283K viewers (vs. CNN’s 271K) and beating CNN in the time period for the first time since 2012.
“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm was the #9 most-watched cable news show in 2019. “The Last Word” bested CNN in total viewers for the 10th straight year, averaging 2.19M viewers. This is more than double CNN’s 987K rating, delivering a record-breaking lead over “CNN Tonight.” This year marked the 3rd straight year “The Last Word” has exceeded 2M total viewers – and 2019 was the 2nd highest annual rating in the show’s history. Since 2016, “The Last Word” has increased its viewership by 912K, while the combination of CNN and FOX News have added less than half of that (+354K). In A25-54, “The Last Word” bested CNN for the 3rd straight year averaging 332K (vs. CNN’s 273K). Since 2016, “The Last Word” has added +49K A25-54 viewers while CNN (-53K) and FOX News (-47K) have both shed viewers.
Every hour of MSNBC weekday programming from 5am-3am beat CNN in total viewers, including: “Morning Joe First Look” at 5am for the 2nd consecutive year; “Morning Joe” at 6am for the 10th straight year; “MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle” at 9am for the 3rd straight year; “MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson” at 10am for the 3rd straight year and delivered a record year; “MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin” at 11am for the 3rd straight year; “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at 12pm for the 3rd straight year and delivered a record year; “MSNBC Live with Velshi & Ruhle” at 1pm for the 2nd straight year; “MSNBC Live with Katy Tur” at 2pm for the 2nd straight year; “MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi” at 3pm for the 2nd straight year; “Deadline: White House” at 4pm for the 2nd straight year; “MTP Daily” at 5pm for the 3rd straight year; “The Beat with Ari Melber” at 6pm for the 3rd straight year; “Hardball with Chris Matthews” at 7pm for the 10th straight year; “All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm for the 3rd straight year; “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm for the 10th straight year; “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm for the 10th straight year; and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” for the 3rd straight year.
MSNBC’s strategic shift to live, breaking news on weekends has catapulted MSNBC weekend (Sa-Su 6am-6am) ahead of CNN, finishing the year as the #2 cable news network in total viewers for the 1st time ever. Weekend averaged 537K viewers (vs. CNN’s 523K). Multiple shows beat CNN in total viewers on the weekends: “AM Joy” on Saturdays and Sundays; “Weekends with Alex Witt” on Saturdays; “MSNBC Live with Kendis Gibson” on Saturdays; “MSNBC Live” on Sundays at 4pm; and “Kasie DC” on Sundays.
On Saturdays, “AM Joy” averaged 1.1M total viewers – the 2nd best year for “AM Joy” and 3rd year that MSNBC in the time slot broke 1M total viewers. “AM Joy” beat CNN by a record 399K viewers, besting CNN for three consecutive years. On Sundays, “AM Joy” topped CNN for the 2nd year in a row in total viewers with an average 875K viewers (vs. CNN’s 777K).
MSNBC presented four candidate town halls in 2019. All four ranked higher than nearly all of CNN’s 48 candidate town halls. MSNBC had two of the three top-rated town halls in 2019. The Kamala Harris town hall ranked #2 with 2.21M total viewers and the Elizabeth Warren town hall ranked #3 with 1.97M total viewers. Not one of CNN’s candidate town halls broke 2M total viewers. MSNBC also aired three Democratic Debates in 2019 (6/26, 6/27, 11/20). Those three debates are now the 6th, 7th, and 10th highest-rated programs ever on MSNBC. To-date, MSNBC has aired 10 days of impeachment hearings and coverage. MSNBC has topped CNN in total viewers on all 10 days of coverage.
For the 2nd consecutive year, MSNBC (M-Su 6am-6am) was the #1 cable network in African-American viewership. MSNBC delivered 233K African-American total viewers (ahead of BET, ESPN, CNN and VH1).
MSNBC.com is on pace for a record year in digital video starts, up +39% over 2018 in monthly video starts, according to comScore (comScore Video Metrix, January – December 2018, January – October 2019). The average viewer watched 54 minutes each month, approximately twice that of the average CNN.com (27 minutes) and FOXNews.com (25 minutes) video viewer.
NOTE: Year-end ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for December 31, 2018 – December 17, 2019. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.
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