Q1 2021 Ratings: For First Time Ever, MSNBC Is Most-Watched Cable Network Across the 24-Hour Day

By A.J. Katz 

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MSNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel are all going to lay claim to being “No. 1” for the first quarter of 2021, and understandably so.

It was a crazy quarter for news. There was the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and much more.

MSNBC  ranked No. 1 on all of cable in average total viewers across the 24-hour daypart, averaging just under 1.4 million total viewers in 6 a.m.-6 a.m.

Compared to the prior quarter (Q4 ’20), MSNBC fell -10% in total prime time total viewers, and -5% in total day viewers. Among adults 25-54, the network finished -18% in prime-time and -12% in the total day.

MSNBC’s performance relative to Q1 2020 is positive. The network grew +16% in total prime time viewers, +7% in the prime time demo, +25% in total day viewers and +20% in the total day demo. The network has the aforementioned news events to thank for that growth.

Despite averaging all of those viewers, MSNBC continues to rank behind CNN and Fox News in the demographic that matters most to advertisers: Adults 25-54.

Here are MSNBC’s ratings for Q1 of 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 2,238,000 total viewers / 365,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  1,367,000 total viewers / 217,000 A25-54

On the programming front, The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. dominated cable news, closing out the quarter at No. 1 for the 1st time since Q1 2019 with a record 3.7 million total viewers. TRMS was also the second-most-watched show on all of basic cable. Additionally, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell was the most-watched 10 p.m. cable news show during Q1 for the first time in series history.

Morning Joe made history of its own by finishing No.1 in cable in both total viewers and A25-54 for the 1st time ever in the 6-9 a.m. time period.

That said, the network continues to rank behind its cable news competition in most time slots when it comes to hauling in the under-55 set.

Here’s MSNBC’s press release:

MSNBC #1 CABLE NETWORK, WINS THE QUARTER FOR THE 1ST TIME EVER

MSNBC Total Day (M-Su 6am-6am) #1 Across All of Cable in Total Viewers 

MSNBC Prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) #1 in All of Cable Among Total Viewers — Beats FOX News for the 1st Time Since 3Q 1999

“Morning Joe” #1 Across All of Cable TV in Total Viewers and A25-54 for the 1st Time Ever in Time Period

“The Rachel Maddow Show” Reigns as the #1 Cable News Program in Total Viewers, Draws Record Viewership

“Deadline: White House” at 4pm #1 in Total Viewers, Beats FOX News for the 1st Time Ever

“The ReidOut” at 7pm #1 Among Total Viewers, Tops FOX News for the 1st Time Ever

“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm #1 Among Total Viewers for the 1st Time Ever, 23rd Straight Quarter Win Over CNN

“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm  #1 Among Total Viewers, Posts Largest Lead Over FOX News Ever

MSNBC Dayside (M-F 9am-4pm) Breaks Ratings Record, Finishes #2 Across All of Cable Beating FOX News for the 1st Time Since 2000 

“MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson” at 10am #1 in Total Viewers, Tops FOX News for the 1st Time Since 2001

“Way Too Early with Kasie Hunt” 5am #1 Among Total Viewers, Beats CNN for the 14th Straight Quarter, Tops FOX News for the 1st Time Since 2001 

Weekend Total Day (6am-6am) Grows More Than FOX News in Total Viewers

MSNBC Digital Ranks #1 in Political News for Both Video Views and Minutes Watched

NEW YORK (March 30, 2021) – MSNBC made history as the #1 network in all of cable television for the 1st quarter of 2021. The historic win marks the 1st time MSNBC has finished #1 for a quarter (ahead of #2 CNN, #3 FOX News and #4 HGTV), according to Nielsen. Viewers turned to MSNBC during a quarter dominated by unprecedented breaking news including the Capitol insurrection, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, the 2nd impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and more.

MSNBC total day (M-Su 6am-6am) delivered 1.4M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.4M and FOX News’ 1.3M), finishing 1st among all cable networks. Total day quarterly ratings topped FOX News for the 1st time since 2001 (when MSNBC was #2 and FOX News was #4 in cable news). Among total viewers, total day added +268K viewers over 1Q20 — an increase of +24% while FOX News was down -31%. A25-54 viewership was up +19% for MSNBC during total day vs. 1Q20 while FOX News lost -39% of viewers.

MSNBC prime (M-F 8pm-11pm) finished #1 in all of cable television for the 1st time ever. MSNBC’s perspective news and analysis drew 2.9M total viewers (drew 2.915M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 2.242M and FOX News’ 2.915M), surpassing FOX News for the top spot for the 1st time since 1999 (when MSNBC was #2 and FOX News was #3 in cable news). In total viewers, MSNBC prime increased viewers by +19% while FOX News was down -26% compared to 1Q20. In A25-54, prime grew +10% compared to 1Q20 while FOX News lost viewers by double digits during prime (-32%).

“Morning Joe’” (6am-9am) made history finishing #1 in cable television in both total viewers and A25-54 for the 1st time ever in the time period. “Morning Joe” delivered 1.4M total viewers, dominating FOX News (1.1M) and CNN (796K). 1Q21 marks the 1st time “Morning Joe” topped FOX News in the time period since 2000 and the 24th straight quarter win over CNN. In A25-54, “Morning Joe” averaged 226K viewers (vs. CNN’s 204K and FOX News’ 205K), beating FOX News for the 1st time since 2000 and CNN for the 16th straight quarter. “Morning Joe” increased A25-54 viewership by +18% while FOX News was down -41% compared to 1Q20.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm dominated cable news closing out the quarter at #1 for the 1st time since 1Q19 with a record 3.7M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 2.2M and FOX News’ 3M). “Maddow” finished as the #2 program in all of cable television among total viewers ahead of FOX News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “Maddow” beat the CNN lineup at 9pm for the 46th straight quarter among total viewers. Compared to 1Q20, “Maddow” grew ratings by +19% while FOX News lost -30%. In A25-54, “Maddow” scored its best rating since 1Q18 with 619K viewers topping FOX News (vs. CNN’s 566K and FOX News’ 485K). “Maddow” grew its A25-54 audience by +14% over 1Q20 while FOX News lost -36%.

MSNBC dayside (9am-4pm) delivered its largest audience in network history with a record-breaking 1.5M total viewers, topping FOX News (1.4M) for the 1st time since 2000. MSNBC’s dayside reporting propelled the network to #2 across all of cable television (ahead of #3 FOX News and #4 HGTV). Dayside increased total viewership by +35% over 1Q20 while FOX News shed -32%. In A25-54, dayside ranked #2 across all of cable averaging 244K viewers – a 43% increase over 1Q20 (vs. FOX News -37%). During around-the-clock breaking news in January and February 2021, MSNBC’s weekday news programming beat FOX News among total viewers for back-to-back months – marking the 1st monthly win since September 2000 and hitting a record in January 2021 with nearly 2M total viewers. Dayside programming also topped FOX News in A25-54 averaging 348K viewers vs. FOX News’ 263K.

“MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson” at 10am finished #1 delivering 1.4M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.35M and FOX News’ 1.39M) and beating FOX News for the first time since 2001 and CNN for the 16th straight quarter. “MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson” increased viewership by +27% over 1Q20 (vs. FOX News’ -36%).

“Deadline: White House” from 4pm-6pm dominated for two hours, closing out the quarter at #1 for the 1st time ever. “Deadline” posted a record 2.4M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.8M and FOX News’ 2.1M) — a +46% increase over 1Q20 (vs. FOX News’ -26%). “Deadline” has beaten CNN for 15 straight quarters. In A25-54, “Deadline” drew 342K viewers topping FOX News (314K) for the 1st time since 2001 and growing more than any network +57% over 1Q20 (vs. CNN’s +32% and FOX News’ -38%).

“The ReidOut” at 7pm dominated FOX News for the quarter, delivering 2.1M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.9M and FOX News’ 1.9M) and ranking #1 in the hour beating CNN for the 3rd straight quarter. “The ReidOut” grew by +449K over 1Q20 while FOX News shed -33%. In A25-54, “The ReidOut” averaged 346K viewers topping FOX News (317K) for the 1st time in the time period, increasing viewership by +25% (vs. FOX News’ -44%).

“The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” ranked #1 at 10pm for the 1st time ever in the time period. “The Last Word” scored a record 2.7M total viewers topping CNN for the 23rd straight quarter (vs. CNN’s 1.8M and FOX News’ 2.4M). Compared to 1Q20, “The Last Word” grew by +18% while FOX News was down -35%. In A25-54, “The Last Word” delivered 414K viewers beating FOX News (408K) for the first time since 2001 and increasing viewership by +12% over 1Q20 (vs. FOX News -37%)

“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” continues its reign at 11pm ranking #1 in the hour and dominating FOX News by a record 872K total viewers. “The 11th Hour” delivered 2.2M total viewers (vs. CNN’s 1.3M and FOX News’ 1.3M) beating FOX News for the 3rd quarter in a row and CNN for the 18th quarter in a row. Compared to 1Q20, “The 11th Hour” grew its audience by +22% while FOX News lost -36%. In A25-54, “The 11th Hour” delivered 364K viewers topping FOX News for the 2nd straight quarter and increasing viewership by +14% (vs. FOX News’ -39%).

“Way Too Early with Kasie Hunt” at 5am was #1 in total viewers marking the 1st time MSNBC has topped FOX News in the time period since 2001. “Way Too Early” averaged 530K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 515K and FOX News’ 519K), beating CNN for the 14th straight quarter and scoring a +27% increase over 1Q20 (vs. FOX News’ -36%).

MSNBC Weekend Total Day (Sa-Su 6am-6am) achieved growth over 1Q20 increasing viewership by +8% while FOX News shed -34% of total viewers.

The following programs also beat FOX News among total viewers “MSNBC Live with Katy Tur” at 2pm; “MSNBC Live with Ayman Mohyeldin” at 3pm; “Weekends with Alex Witt” Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-3pm; “MSNBC Live with Yasmin Vossoughian” Saturdays and Sundays from 3pm-5pm and “PoliticsNation” Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm.

MSNBC (M-Sun 6a-6a) recorded record ratings during the three most news-heavy weeks of January 4, 2021 during the insurrection (2.3M); January 18, 2021 during the Inauguration (1.8M) and February 8, 2021 during the Senate impeachment (1.8M) – beating FOX News in all those weeks and ranking #1 during the impeachment trial over both CNN and FOX News.

During Q1 2021, viewers watched MSNBC for an average 433 minutes per week (vs. CNN at 291 minutes and FOX News at 325 minutes).

MSNBC Digital delivered one of its strongest quarters on record in terms of monthly audience with 23M average unique visitors, according to Comscore Media Metrix. MSNBC Digital ranked #1 within Comscore’s Political News category for both video views and minutes viewed. Compared to 2020, January and February audience levels were up by +54% year-over-year.

NOTE: 1Q21 ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for 12/28/2021-3/28/2021. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.

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