2018 Year-End Cable Ranker: Fox News, MSNBC, Hallmark Channel Are Among Top Networks to Also Post Audience Growth

By A.J. Katz 

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America’s most-watched basic cable network remained at the top of the heap in 2018. For the third consecutive year Fox News Channel ranked No. 1 in total viewers, both in prime time and across the 24-hour day (6 a.m. – 6 a.m.)

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, FNC averaged 2.4 million total viewers in prime time during 2018, +26 percent more than the next closest finisher, ESPN, and 1.4 million total day viewers in 2018, +43 percent more than second place finisher MSNBC. In fact, Fox News was the sole basic cable network to average more than a million viewers across the 24-hour day.

When compared to 2017, Fox News was +1 percent in total prime time viewers.

The majority of the other top cable entertainment networks posted year-over year declines in 2018. This is likely due to the increase in cord cutting, a trend TV news and other networks which broadcast live programming have seemingly proved immune to.

MSNBC, as noted in previous reports this week, posted the most significant year-over-year audience growth of any top 25 basic cable network (+10 percent in prime time / +12 percent in total day).

ESPN had a pretty strong 2018 as well, only -1 percent from 2017. In this day and age, call that a win.

2018 BASIC CABLE TOP 10

Prime Time  (Total Viewers) / YoY % Change

  1. Fox News Channel (2,434,000) / +1 percent
  2. ESPN (1,929,000) / -1 percent
  3. MSNBC (1,802,000) / +10 percent
  4. HGTV (1,314,000) / -6 percent
  5. USA (1,291,000) / -9 percent
  6.  TBS (1,262,000) / –10  percent
  7.  TNT (1,171,000) / FLAT
  8. Hallmark (1,105,000) /  +1 percent
  9. History (1,038,000) / -8 percent
  10. Investigation Discovery (1,007,000) / FLAT

Total Day  (Total Viewers) / YoY % Change

  1.  Fox News (1,424,000) / -5 percent
  2.  MSNBC (994,000) / +12 percent
  3.  Nickelodeon (870,000) / -22 percent
  4.  ESPN (760,000) / -2 percent
  5.  HGTV (736,000) / -8 percent
  6.  Investigation Discovery (719,000) / -3 percent
  7.  CNN (706,000) / -9 percent
  8.  Hallmark (656,000) / +4 percent
  9.  USA (617,000) / -12 percent
  10.  TNT (591,000) / -7 percent

The Total Day top 10 looks relatively similar to prime time. Fox News at No. 1 despite losing viewers from 2017, and MSNBC posting double digit growth in total viewers for the second straight year.

Kids/daytime-focused Nickelodeon found its way to No. 3. However, the network continues to post year-over-year declines, as kids are increasingly watching their favorite shows on various other devices.

CNN earned a strong No. 7 ranking, while TBS, which thrives on acquisitions and live sports in prime time, is not in the Total Day top 10; neither is History.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Nielsen-rated basic cable networks for 2018:

2018 basic cable ranker (Total Viewers)…

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