Q2 ’21 Ratings: MSNBC Remains Second-Most-Watched Cable Network, But Averages Smallest Q2 Audience Since 2016

By A.J. Katz 

During the second quarter of 2021, MSNBC finished No. 2 across all of basic cable in average total prime time viewers (1.46 million) and in average total day viewers (847,000). According to live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen, the network also averaged 198,000 in the prime time demo, and 115,000 in the total day demo in Q2.

While MSNBC’s standing as one of cable’s most-watched networks is impressive, its ratings are not trending in a positive direction. Compared to the most recent quarter (when MSNBC finished No. 1 on all of cable in total day viewership, driven by coverage of the early days of the Biden administration), the network is -38% in total day viewers and -47% in the total day demo. The network also shed -35% in total prime-time viewers, and -46% in the prime-time demo.

Compared to Q2 2020,  a quarter which featured seismic global news events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and police brutality protests in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, (not to mention it being a presidential election year), MSNBC shed -30% of its average total day audience, -41% of its total day demo, -27% in total prime time viewers and -37% in the prime time demo in Q2 2021.


Finally, compared to four years ago (Q2 2017), MSNBC shed -11% of its total prime time audience, -4% of its total day audience, lost nearly one half of its prime time demo audience (-49%), and -44% in the total day demo. We’ll likely continue to see a sharper drop off in A25-54 viewers than in average total viewers (the average cable news viewer is way over 55), as younger Americans increasingly cut the cable cord and search for other ways to consume the news; ways that are yet to be measured by Nielsen.

Here are MSNBC’s ratings for Q2 of 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 1,463,000 total viewers / 198,000 A25-54
  • Total day (Mon-Sun): 847,000 total viewers / 115,000 A25-54

On the programming front, The Rachel Maddow Show was the fourth-most-watched show on cable news and the No.5  cable news show among adults 25-54 this past quarter. Morning Joe from 6-9 a.m. ranked No. 2 across cable in both total viewers and A25-54, and Deadline: White House hosted by Nicolle Wallace was No. 1 in the 4 p.m. hour.

Here’s MSNBC’s ratings press release, where the network stresses lots of total viewer wins over CNN:


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

“Morning Joe” Tops CNN for the 25th Straight Quarter in Total Viewers and 16th Straight Quarter in A25-54, Ranks #2 Across All of Cable TV

“The Rachel Maddow Show” More Than Doubles CNN’s Total Audience, Tops CNN for the 47th Consecutive Quarter in Total Viewers and A25-54

MSNBC Digital Outpaces CNN Politics in Video, Finishes #1 in the Politics Sub-Category for 27 Consecutive Months

MSNBC Full Day (M-Su 6am-2am) Tops All Cable Networks in African American Viewership for the Quarter

Viewers Watch MSNBC Full Day (M-Su 6am-2am) for an Average 350 Minutes Per Week, Nearly Doubling CNN (198 Minutes)

NEW YORK (June 29, 2021) – MSNBC again dominates CNN across total day (M-Su 6am-6am), dayside (M-F 9am-4pm) and prime (M-F 8pm-11pm), finishing the 2nd quarter as the #2 network in cable television, according to Nielsen. During President Joe Biden’s 1st summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the fight over voting rights and increasing Covid-19 variants, MSNBC rated higher than CNN for first-rate breaking news and analysis.

Total day ranked #2 across all of cable television ahead of #3 CNN, #4 HGTV and #5 ESPN. Total day drew 857K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 660K) and 116K A25-54 viewers.

MSNBC’s breaking news coverage propelled dayside to #2 across all of cable television for the 2nd straight quarter (ahead of #3 CNN, #4 HGTV and #8 ESPN). Dayside averaged 859K total viewers (vs. CNN’s 801K) and 115K A25-54 viewers.

MSNBC’s weekday perspective and analysis programming (M-F 8pm-11pm) nearly doubled CNN in total viewers with 1.9M vs. CNN’s 1M. Weekday prime ranked #2 across all of cable (MSNBC ranked #1 in 1Q21) ahead of #4 ESPN, #5 HGTV and #6 CNN.

“Morning Joe” from 6am-9am ranked #2 across cable in both total viewers and A25-54. Among total viewers, “Morning Joe” drew 988K total viewers, more than doubling CNN’s total audience (485K) and topping CNN for the 25th quarter in a row. In A25-54, “Morning Joe” drew 131K viewers, easily topping CNN (116K) for the 17th quarter 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 (240K), ahead of FOX News (19K) and CNN (156K). Across cable news, “Morning Joe” also ranks #1 among Hispanic audiences.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9pm averaged 2.6M total viewers in 2Q21 ranking #2 in the time period in total viewers and A25-54. Among total viewers, “Maddow” dominated CNN (1.1M) for the 47th straight quarter. In A25-54, “Maddow” averaged 367K viewers topping CNN for the 4th straight quarter.

The following shows topped CNN for the quarter in total viewer: “Way Too Early with Kasie Hunt” at 5am for the 15th straight quarter; “Stephanie Ruhle Reports’’ at 9am for the 18th straight quarter; “Hallie Jackson Reports” at 10am for the 17th straight quarter; “Craig Melvin Reports” at 11am for quarter; “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at 12pm for the quarter; “MTP Daily” at 1pm for the quarter; “Deadline: White House” from 4pm-6pm (“Deadline” was also #1 at 4pm among total viewers), topping CNN for the 16th straight quarter; “The Beat with Ari Melber” at 6pm for the 16th straight quarter; “The ReidOut” at 7pm for the 4th straight quarter; “All In with Chris Hayes” at 8pm for the 18th straight quarter; “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10pm for the 24th straight quarter and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” at 11pm for the 19th straight quarter. On Saturdays, “VELSHI” from 8am-10am beat CNN for three of the last four quarters.

Across all of cable networks, MSNBC was the #1 network in African American viewership (ahead of #2 CNN and #49 FOX News) for the quarter in full day (M-Su 6am-2am) through 6/24/2021. 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 197 minutes). During prime (M-F 8pm-11pm), viewers watched MSNBC for an average 135 minutes per week (vs. CNN’s 65 minutes and FOX News’ 126 minutes).

MSNBC has held the #1 position in the Politics Sub-Category for 27 consecutive months in both video views and total minutes, according to ComScore through May 2021. From January to May, MSNBC monthly unique visitors are up +11% year-over-year compared with the same time period in 2020. Since January, MSNBC averaged 139M monthly video views in 2021, far outpacing CNN Politics (69M) and Fox News Politics (19M). MSNBC video viewers have watched for an average 37 minutes in 2021, +90% longer than CNN Politics and more than double Fox News Politics.

NOTE: 2Q2021 ratings are based on Nielsen most current data day for 03/29/2021-06/27/2021. Individual show data for the month represents regular programming only, excluding specials and breaking news.ComScore Multiplatform Video Metrix, January – May 2021, ComScore Politics News/Information Sub-Category.