For the first time in 2021, Fox News finished a calendar week as the No. 1 cable news network in total prime time viewers, total day viewers, the prime time demo and in the total day demo adults 25-54.
The network was aided by wall-to-wall coverage of the CPAC conference over the weekend, as well as a slowing of what had been a breakneck news cycle that had primarily benefited CNN and MSNBC.
Does this mean that Fox will regain its status as No. 1 on cable news across the board going forward, as had been the case for years before the November 2020 presidential election? Quite possibly.
We’ll have to wait and see for certain.
Compared to the prior week, Fox News was down less than -1% in total prime time viewers, but grew +3% in the prime time demo. In total day, the network grew +5% in total viewers, and +5% in the demo.
How did Fox News rate relative to the year-ago week? (Highlighted by the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020). Not so hot. The network dropped -20% in total prime time viewers, -26% in the prime time demo, -22% in total day viewers, and -29% in the total day demo.
MSNBC held steady from the prior week when it came to total prime time viewers. However, it lost traction in other measurements. The network fell -4% in the prime time demo, -2% in total day viewers and -9% in the total day demo.
MSNBC finished No. 2 in total viewers, but third on cable news in the key demo. It finished No. 13 across basic cable in the prime time demo, and No. 10 in the total day demo.
Relative to the same week ago week, MSNBC did show audience growth in total viewers (+7% in prime time), but lost ground in the prime time demo (-5%). In total day, the network was +19% in total viewers, and +8% in the demo.
CNN continues to see a decline after its superb start to the year. The network dropped double digit percent from the prior week in multiple measurements, including total prime time viewers (-21%), the prime time demo (-25%), total day viewers (-12%), and the total day demo (-16%).
CNN finished No. 2 on cable news in the demo this past week, beating MSNBC both in prime time and total day, but finishing behind both Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers.
That said, the network does continue to show improvement in most measurements from 2020. Relative to the year ago week, CNN grew +11% in total prime time viewers, +25% in total day viewers, +8% in the total day demo, but lost -7% of its audience in the prime time demo.
The week of Feb 22, 2021, Monday-Sunday (Nielsen live+same-day data):
|PRIME TIME||Fox News||MSNBC||CNN|
|• Total Viewers:||2,478,000||1,967,000||1,295,000|
|TOTAL DAY||Fox News||MSNBC||CNN|
|• Total Viewers:||1,388,000||1,166,000||909,000|
What about the rest of the basic cable landscape? For the week of Feb. 22, ESPN was the fourth-most-watched cable network in prime time (after Fox News, MSNBC and CNN). HGTV, Hallmark Channel, History, TNT, TLC and Discovery round out the top 10 in total viewers.
After cable news’ big three, HGTV, Hallmark, Investigation Discovery, Food Network, History, ESPN and TNT round out the 10-most-watched cable nets for last week in total day.
Basic cable network ranker (by total viewers)
*Nielsen Live+Same-Day Data
Each of the three networks didn’t totally impress when it came to drawing adults 25-54 in prime time. Fox News finished No. 4 in prime time (after sports-centric networks ESPN, TNT and TBS), CNN No. 10 and MSNBC No. 13. In the total day demo, the story was better. Fox News and CNN were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but MSNBC ranked No. 10.
Basic cable network ranker (by Adults 25-54)
*Nielsen live-plus-same-day data