The question is, is this a lasting trend?
Fox News is touting their return to the top of the rankings since the inauguration, but CNN and MSNBC are still trumpeting ratings gains in the final week of the month.
According to numbers from Nielsen released by CNN, the network averaged 2.74 million total viewers in primetime in January, up 125% from the same period a year earlier. MSNBC averaged 2.66 million total viewers, up 51%. Fox News averaged 2.62 million, down 14%. In the 25-54 demo, CNN topped with 802,000, up 142%; MSNBC was at 495,000, up 66% and Fox News was at 437,000, down 11%.
CNN also was on top in total day (6 AM to 6 AM), drawing an average of 1.91 million viewers, up 151%; MSNBC was at 1.66 million, up 65% and Fox News was at 1.38 million, down 20%. In adults 25-54, the numbers were 531,000 for CNN, up 172%; 298,000 for MSNBC, up 87% and 245,000 for Fox News, down 18%.
In the world of network news, ratings are the ultimate currency, and there is a lot of P.R. jockeying (i.e. spin) to claim each week’s crown.
A case in point:
CNN’s headline this week: “#1 IN ALL OF CABLE IN TOTAL DAY, M-SU PRIMETIME & DAYSIDE IN TOTAL VIEWERS.”
MSNBC’s headline: “MSNBC IS THE #1 NETWORK IN ALL OF CABLE DURING PRIMETIME, DOMINATING FOX NEWS AND CNN AMONG TOTAL VIEWERS IN JANUARY.”
Fox News’ headline: “FOX NEWS CHANNEL DOMINATES AS THE TOP RATED NETWORK IN PRIMETIME TOTAL VIEWERS.”
As you can imagine, they all can’t be true. That’s why you have to read the fine print.
CNN’s claim is based on the month of January, which, in Nielsen measurement is for five weeks, Dec. 28-Jan. 31. During that time, there obviously was a lot of news: The Capitol insurrection, another impeachment, the inauguration. The network said that January was its most watched month on record in total day and dayside.
MSNBC’s figures, meanwhile, are for weekday primetime. On that measure (taking out Saturdays and Sundays), the numbers were MSNBC with 3.4 million total viewers, versus 3 million for Fox News and 3.1 million for CNN. The Rachel Maddow Show was the top show of the month in total viewers, with 4.3 million, giving MSNBC its highest ratings for 9 PM in its history.
Fox News was talking about the final week of January, the first without a major breaking news event. The rankings reversed a bit, perhaps a signal that things are returning to where they once were.
In primetime, Fox News was on top and averaged 2.62 million total viewers, followed by 2.3 million for MSNBC and 1.81 million for CNN. Tucker Carlson Tonight was first in the 25-54 demo, averaging 585,000 viewers. The network recently marked its 19th consecutive year as the top cable news network.
Still, during the week, Fox News was down 26% from a year earlier, MSNBC was up 13% and CNN was up 54%. The figures from Nielsen were released by CNN.
In total day, MSNBC topped with 1.38 million viewers, up 11%; followed by Fox News with 1.32 million, down 31%; and CNN with 1.28 million, up 48%.
Fox News, meanwhile, points out that it was CNN and MSNBC that declined significantly, but that is week over week, and not year over year.
A bit of perspective: the broadcast network evening newscasts still beat the highest rated cable news show. World News Tonight averaged 9.9 million, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt was at 8.3 million and CBS Evening News saw an average audience of 6.2 million.
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