Week of March 23 Ranker: Fox News, MSNBC, CNN Were 3-Most-Watched Networks on Basic Cable

By A.J. Katz 

Americans interested in watching the daily White House coronavirus task force press briefings are flocking to Fox News, in particular.

In fact, the week of March 23, which featured seven consecutive days of early-evening briefings, was Fox News’ highest-rated week of the year to-date in both Total Viewers and Adults 25-54.

The network averaged a whopping 4.2 million viewers in prime time and more than 2.6 million in 6 a.m.-6 a.m. total day, the latter of which was the largest delivery since election week 2016.


Those numbers were large enough to make Fox News the most-watched cable network in all of cable across total day, marking 12 consecutive weeks in that spot, and No. 1 in prime time for 10 weeks in a row, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data.

The briefings have been taking place during the 5-7 p.m. ET time period, when The Five (5 p.m.), Special Report with Bret Baier (6 p.m.) and The Story with Martha MacCallum (7 p.m.) air. It might not surprise you to read then that the network’s 6 p.m. hour delivered its most total viewers in network history last week, and FNC’s 5 p.m. hour averaged its second-largest audience ever, only behind 2017 Inauguration week.

Still the top show on cable news, Hannity had his most-watched week since the program’s launch and its highest-rated in the demo since the 2017 Inauguration. His lead-in, Tucker Carlson Tonight delivered 4.9 million viewers and 1 million in the demo, making the week its most watched ever in both categories.

Additionally, Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner (1 p.m.), and Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream (11 p.m.) had their most-watched weeks ever.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC each grew year-over-year in multiple measurements, as you might have guessed. However, a more interesting comparison these days might be looking at cable news performance on a week to week basis.

Compared with the previous week (week of March 16), Fox News was +6% in total prime time viewers, +6% in total day viewers, +4% in the prime time demo and +3% in total day demo.

For the week of March 23, CNN posted +3% growth in prime time viewers, and solid +7% growth in total day viewers from the prior week. The network has been attracting large audiences for its coverage of the daily coronavirus task force briefings, particularly in the demo. The network even managed to pull ahead of MSNBC in total day viewers last week; a rarity. CNN was +2% in the total day demo from the previous week, but -3% in the prime time demo.

For the week of March 23, MSNBC remained the second-most-watched network on basic cable in prime time. No small feat. However, it did lose some traction in that daypart from the prior week, -4% in Total Viewers and -10% in Adults 25-54.  In total day, MSNBC was +2% in Total Viewers and -3% in the demo.

Here are the cable news numbers for the week of March 23, followed by a full ranker of Nielsen-measured basic cable networks:

(Total Viewers)

  • Fox News prime time (4,251,000) and total day (2,644,000)
  • MSNBC prime time (2,350,000) and in total day (1,496,000)
  • CNN prime time (2,156,000) and total day (1,629,000)

Cable News Ratings (A25-54)

  • Fox News prime time (838,000) and total day (571,000)
  • CNN prime time (715,000) and total day (522,000)
  • MSNBC prime time (425,000) and total day (274,000)

Basic cable network ranker: Week of March 23 (Total Viewers)