The cable news ratings race started February as it ended January. with Fox News as the top cable news network in total prime time viewers, CNN the most popular network among adults 25-54, and MSNBC the most-watched cable news network across the 24-hour day, as well as home of the most-watched host: Rachel Maddow.
According to the most up-to-date data from Nielsen for the week of Feb. 1, Fox News beat MSNBC in the prime time demo, but MSNBC beat Fox News in the total day demo last week.
Fox News may have finished No. 1 in total prime time viewers, but it was -10% in average total prime time viewers vs. the prior week. Fox News also finished No. 3 in total day viewers. MSNBC was also down (-2%) week-to-week in total prime time viewers, as was CNN (-1%).
The aforementioned CNN—No. 1 among adults 25-54, No. 2 in total day viewers, and No. 3 in total prime time viewers—continues to see its ratings decline since the inauguration. Compared to the prior week, the network was down -5% in the prime time demo, -1% in total day viewers and -7% among adults 25-54 across the total day. However, the upcoming impeachment trial should give the network a ratings lift.
MSNBC, which should also benefit from this week’s impeachment trial, saw growth in the prime time demo from the prior week (up +1%), but the network was -2% in total day viewers and -3% in the total day demo.
How did the networks perform relative to the year-ago week?
Fox News is down double digits. To be fair, the year-ago week (Feb. 3, 2020) featured the State of the Union and the continued Senate Impeachment trial coverage, two events that lifted Fox News to its highest-rated week since the 2016 election. Year-over-year decline was inevitable.
CNN and MSNBC, on the other hand, are up double digits from the year-ago week. Needless to say, its viewers weren’t as interested in watching former President Trump’s State of the Union as Fox News’ viewers were. Plus, CNN and MSNBC viewers are far more engaged in general right now than they were at this time last year.
Here are the specific Nielsen live-plus-same-day numbers for the week of Feb 1, 2021, Monday-Sunday:
|PRIME TIME||Fox News||MSNBC||CNN|
|• Total Viewers:||2,357,000||2,266,000||1,804,000|
|TOTAL DAY||MSNBC||CNN||Fox News|
|• Total Viewers:||1,360,000||1,277,000||1,256,000|
Here’s the weekly basic cable ranker:
Weekday Prime Time Cable News Shows
Week of Feb. 1, 2021, Monday-Friday:
|• Total Viewers:||3,341,000||2,364,000||2,269,000|
Tucker Carlson Tonight was the most-watched 8 p.m. cable news show of the week by a healthy margin. However, it finished No. 2 behind Anderson Cooper 360 among adults 25-54. All In with Chris Hayes ranked No. 2 in total viewers, but third in the demo.
Carlson was down -9% in total viewers and -16% among adults 25-54 from the prior week; -30% in total viewers and -41% among adults 25-54 from the year-ago week.
Hayes was flat in total viewers, but -7% among adults 25-54 vs. the prior week; +34% in total viewers and +21% among adults 25-54 from the year-ago week.
Cooper was up +12% in total viewers and +13% in the demo vs. the prior week; +80% in total viewers and +51% among adults 25-54 from the year-ago week.
|• Total Viewers:||3,702,000||2,868,000||2,370,000|
Rachel Maddow, as previously mentioned, was the top show on cable news for the week; not just in total viewers (3.7 million), but also among adults 25-54 (585,000).
Chris Cuomo defeated Sean Hannity in the demo, but Hannity remains ahead of Cuomo in average total viewers.
Despite her win, Maddow finished down -6% in total viewers and -5% in the demo vs. the prior week. However, she’s up +24% in total viewers and +22% in the demo vs. the year-ago week.
Hannity was down -7% in total viewers and -17% among adults 25-54 vs. the prior week; -39% in total viewers and -46% among adults 25-54 vs. the year-ago week.
Cuomo was up +4% in total viewers, but down -5% in the demo vs. the prior week; +169% in total viewers and +196% in the demo vs. the year-ago week.
|• Total Viewers:||2,724,000||2,148,000||1,878,000|
The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell averaged the largest total audience on cable news in the 10 p.m. hour, while CNN Tonight with Don Lemon was tops among adults 25-54.
O’Donnell was down -1% in total viewers vs. the prior week, but up +7% in the demo; his program was +28% in total viewers and +28% in the demo vs. the year-ago week.
Hosted by Laura Ingraham, The Ingraham Angle was down -10% in total viewers and -12% in adults 25-54 vs. the prior week; down -50% in total viewers and -50% among adults 25-54 vs. the year-ago week.
Lastly, CNN’s Tonight 10 p.m. hour was up +9% in total viewers, but down -1% in the demo vs. the prior week; up +142% in total viewers and +148% in the demo vs. the year-ago week.
So, if Fox News came second in total viewers at 9 and 10 p.m., how was it the most-watched network for the week inn prime time? For one, Tucker Carlson dominated his time slot competition. Secondly, the network’s weekend prime time programming dominated MSNBC’s weekend prime time programming. Take away Saturday and Sunday, and MSNBC is the most-watched in prime time. But that’s now how it works, and FNC will end the week averaging the largest total audience in the key daypart, while CNN remains the standard in the demo, post-election, and MSNBC notches the most viewers across an entire 24-hour day.