Cable News Networks Seize On Bragging Rights In First Quarter Ratings – But Overall Viewership Drops In March


News networks trumpeted their first-quarter ratings by keying in on their bright spots: CNN got the biggest bounce and topped the 25-54 demo, Fox News led in primetime in total viewers, and MSNBC ranked first in total-day viewers.

But drill down to the month of March, and a slower news cycle versus a year earlier appears to have had an impact on viewership.

All of the news networks were down significantly for the month, with Fox News off 34% in total viewers in primetime, CNN down 37% and MSNBC losing 19%. In total day, the falloff was even more significant, with Fox News off 40%, CNN dropping 32% and MSNBC falling 19%. Granted, March 2020 was an extraordinary month with the full start of the Covid-19 crisis and states entering lockdowns, but there also has been some expectation of a decline with the end of the election cycle and inauguration, and the lack of the daily news-cycle presence of Donald Trump.

In the first quarter, Fox News topped primetime with an average 2.48 million total viewers, but it was the only one of the three major news networks to decline in the period versus a year earlier, as its numbers were off by 27%. MSNBC, meanwhile, posted 2.34 million, up 16%, and CNN had 1.94 million, a boost of 35%. In the 25-54 demo, CNN was on top with 524,000, up 22%, followed by Fox News with 391,000 (down 33%) and MSNBC with 365,000 (up 7%).

In total day, MSNBC was No. 1 with an average of 1.37 million viewers, up 25%, followed by CNN with 1.35 million (up 50%) and Fox News with 1.32 million (down 31%). CNN was on top in the 25-54 demo, averaging 349,000, up 38%, followed by Fox News with 221,000 (down 38%) and MSNBC with 217,000 (up 20%).

The figures are from Nielsen via Fox News.

In the month of March, Fox News topped primetime with 2.4 million viewers, followed by MSNBC with 1.8 million and CNN averaging 1.21 million. In the 25-54 demo, Fox News had 375,000, followed by CNN with 292,000 and MSNBC with 236,000.

In total day, Fox News was on top with 1.27 million, followed by MSNBC with 1.02 million and CNN with 812,000. In the 25-54 demo, Fox News was at 207,000, followed by CNN with 191,000 and MSNBC with 129,000.

In the first quarter, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show was the top cable news program, averaging 3.6 million total viewers, followed by FNC’s Tucker Carlson Tonight (3.43 million), Hannity (3 million) and The Five (2.84 million) and MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (2.65 million).

In March, Tucker Carlson Tonight was on top, with 3.23 million, followed by The Rachel Maddow Show with 3.04 million, then Hannity at 2.82 million, The Five with 2.8 million and Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle at 2.04 million.

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