Oct. ’21 Ratings: MSNBC Touts Primetime Win Over CNN; Remains Top 5 Network in Total Viewers, But Struggles on Weekends

By A.J. Katz 

MSNBC remains a top five basic cable network in terms of total audience. The network averaged the fourth-largest primetime audience in October, behind ESPN, Fox News and a MLB Playoffs-boosted TBS. MSNBC finished No. 3 during primetime across all of cable television in average total viewers, ahead of No. 7 CNN and behind Fox News and ESPN. MSNBC’s third-place finish in total day ends a six-month streak finishing among the top two on basic cable in the daypart.

How did the network fare relative to September? The network shed -5% of its average total primetime audience, -8% of its audience from the primetime demo. In total day, the network fell -5% in total viewers and -6% in the total day demo. Its 78,000 adults 25-54 average in total day represents the network’s smallest audience in the daypart since 2004. Now, MSNBC managed to beat rival CNN in primetime, not only in average total viewers but also among adults 25-54. The story was more mixed in total day. Yes, MSNBC beat CNN in total viewers, but the network continues to lag behind when it comes to adults 25-54 in total day.

Compared to Oct. 2020, the network shed -55% in average total primetime viewers, -71% in the primetime demo, -54% in total day viewers and -68% among adults 25-54 in total day. Now to be fair, Oct. 2020 was the most-watched month in MSNBC history, carried by in-depth coverage of the 2020 presidential election. MSNBC’s year-over-year losses were steeper than Fox News’, but not quite as steep as CNN’s.


The average impressions for Oct. 2021 (Nielsen Live + Same Day data):

  • Prime time (Mon.-Sun.): 1,203,000 total viewers / 140,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon.-Sun.):  680,000 total viewers / 78,000 A25-54

On the programming front—Morning Joe, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and The 11th Hour with Brian Williams beat their CNN competition in average total viewers and among adults 25-54. However, the other MSNBC shows failed to beat their CNN counterparts among adults 25-54 and the network struggled to draw viewers on weekends in October. In fact, the October weekends slate drew its smallest adults 25-54 audience since Oct. 1997.

Here’s the network’s ratings press release for October 2021:

MSNBC Prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) More Than Doubles CNN in Total Viewers, Beats CNN in A25-54
MSNBC Total Day Beats CNN for 9th Straight Month
“Morning Joe” is #2 Across All of Cable in Total Viewers, Beats CNN for the 80th Consecutive Month in Total Viewers and 48th Consecutive Month in A25-54
“The Rachel Maddow Show” Ranks #2 at 9pm in Total Viewers and A25-54, Dominates CNN for 101st Straight Month in Total Viewers and 9th Straight Month in A25-54
“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” is #2 at 10pm in Total Viewers and A25-54, Bests CNN for the 77th Month in a Row in Total Viewers
“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” Ranks #2 at 11pm in Total Viewers and A25-54, Tops CNN for the 63rd Consecutive Month in Total Viewers
MSNBC.com Monthly Unique Visitors Up +19% this Year
MSNBC’s Early Fringe (M-F 5pm-8pm) and “Morning Joe” Top All Cable Networks in African American Viewership for the Month; Prime and Total Day Top CNN Among Hispanic Viewers
Viewers Watch MSNBC Full Day (M-Su 6am-2am) for an Average 320 Minutes Per Week, Nearly Doubling CNN’s Average
NEW YORK (November 2, 2021) – MSNBC again swept CNN across total day, prime and dayside in October, according to Nielsen. MSNBC’s perspective and analysis during prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) more than doubled CNN’s total audience and also topped CNN in A25-54 in October.
Prime averaged 1.6M – +114% more than CNN’s audience (752K). October marked the 59th straight month that MSNBC topped CNN during prime (MSNBC ranked #1 in Feb. 2021). Among A25-54 viewers, MSNBC delivered 191K, beating CNN’s 158K.
Dayside again finished #2 across all of cable television (ahead of #3 CNN, #4 HGTV and #8 ESPN). MSNBC’s breaking news coverage delivered 659K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 625K), topping CNN. In A25-54, dayside averaged75K viewers.
Early fringe programming (M-F 5pm-8pm) also ranked #2 among all cable networks (ahead of #4 ESPN, #6 CNN, and #7 HGTV) for the 8th consecutive month. Early fringe drew 1.2M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 668K). In A25-54, early fringe averaged 136K viewers. Across all cable networks, MSNBC was the #1 network in African American viewership (ahead of #3 CNN and #29 FOX News) for the month in early fringe.
Total day ranked #2 in cable news for the 8th straight month delivering 690K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 491K) and topping CNN for the 9th straight month. In A25-54, total day averaged 79K Viewers.
“Morning Joe” (6am-9am) ranked #2 among all cable networks. In total viewers, “Morning Joe” delivered 784K viewers, dominating CNN for the 80th month in a row and finishing ahead of #3 CNN, #6 ESPN and #9 HGTV for the 7th month in a row. In A25-54, “Morning Joe” drew 89K viewers, dominating CNN for the 48th month in a row and finishing ahead of #10 CNN. “Morning Joe” also led cable news among diverse audiences. “Morning Joe” ranked #1 across all of cable television among African American viewership (165K), ahead of #2 CNN (98K) and #37 FOX News (17K).
October marks the 101st straight month “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm has topped CNN. “Maddow” finished #2 among all cable news networks in the time period for the 5th straight month in total viewers and 8th straight month in A25-54. “Maddow” more than doubled CNN’s total audience with 2.2M viewers (vs. CNN’s 827K). In A25-54, “Maddow” delivered 264K viewers (vs. CNN’s 160K).
“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm ranked #2 in the hour in both total viewers and A25-54. In total viewers, “The Last Word” delivered 1.4M viewers (vs. CNN’s 632K) and beat CNN for the 77th consecutive month. In A25-54, “The Last Word” delivered 151K viewers (vs. CNN’s 143K).
“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm finished #2 in the hour among total viewers for the 7th month in a row and beat CNN for the 63rd month in a row. “The 11th Hour” drew 1.0M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 434K). In A25-54, “The 11th Hour” ranked #2 in the hour, averaging 125K viewers (vs. CNN’s 109K).
The following shows topped CNN for the month in total viewers, “Way Too Early” at 5am for the 9th straight month; “Stephanie Ruhle Reports’’ at 9am for the 57th straight month; “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at 12pm; “MTP Daily” at 1pm for the 2nd straight month; “MSNBC Reports” at 3pm; “Deadline: White House” from 4pm-6pm for the 53rd straight month straight month; “The Beat with Ari Melber” at 6pm for the 18th straight month; “The ReidOut” at 7pm for the 9th straight month and “All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm for the 9th straight month. On Saturdays, “VELSHI” (8am-10am) topped CNN total viewers.
In its first month, “José Díaz-Balart Reports” (M-F 10am-11am) topped CNN in total viewers, drawing 620K viewers (vs. CNN’s 611K). MSNBC’s 10am hour ranked #2 for the 10th straight month.
“Ayman,” which also premiered at the end of September, was MSNBC’s highest-rated weekend primetime program during its first month on air (Saturdays 8pm-10pm and Sundays 9pm-10pm).
From January to September, MSNBC Digital monthly unique visitors are up +19% versus the same time period in 2020. MSNBC viewers are also watching more minutes, on average, throughout 2021 than competitors such as CNN.com & FoxNews.com.
MSNBC Films’ dynamic programming continues to draw high ratings on Sundays at 10pm. Last Sunday (10/24), the MSNBC broadcast premiere of “Civil War” at 10pm topped CNN and was #1 at 11pm among total viewers. “Civil War” averaged 700K total viewers, tripling MSNBC’s time period average. The digital livestream viewership (via MSNBC.com) was up +32% compared to the time period average.
Across cable news, MSNBC was #1 among African American viewers during prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) and total day (M-Su 6am-6am). Among Hispanic viewers, MSNBC topped CNN in the same time periods.
Viewers watched MSNBC full day (M-Su 6am-2am) for an average 320 minutes per week, nearly doubling CNN’s 169 minutes per week.
NOTE: October ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for 09/27/2021-10/31/2021. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.
Source: Comscore Media Metrix Multi-Platform and Video Metrix Multi-Platform, January – September 2021. MSNBC TV Entity.