Fox News, CNN and MSNBC wrapped up the 2020 presidential election year with record-setting fourth quarters.
Fox News maintained its hold on the top spot in total viewers, both in total day and in prime time, marking 76 straight quarters as the most-watched cable news network— every quarter since the start of 2002.
Its 3.8 million total prime time viewer average for Q4 represents the largest average total audience for a quarter in cable news history. In total day, FNC delivered its 3rd-highest rated quarter ever.
Fox also edged CNN in the prime time demo, but finished second in total day among adults 25-54.
Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, the top two shows on cable news, both delivered their highest rated quarter ever in total viewers and among adults 25-54. Both shows were aided by election campaign coverage.
The FNC debates airing on Sept. 29 and Oct. 22 were the two-most-watched cable telecasts for the quarter.
Relative to Q4 2019, Fox News was up +41% in total prime time viewers, +80% in the prime time demo, +21% in total day viewers and +39% in total day demo. Seeing more growth among younger news viewers relative to total viewers (older viewers) isn’t particularly surprising. Younger viewers are more likely to watch the news in election years vs. non-election years, whereas older viewers tend to be more consistent in their news viewing habits.
Relative to Q4 2016, the last time we had a presidential election, Fox News was up +29% in total prime time viewers, +15% in the prime time demo, +10% in total day viewers but actually -3% in the total day demo. Fox didn’t perform as well after the election outside of prime time, particularly among younger news viewers.
CNN had a breakout final quarter of 2020. The network posted its highest total day and prime time ratings for a quarter ever, both in total viewers and among adults 25-54. During the dayside daypart, CNN notched its largest average total audience on record and among 25-54, best on record since 4Q 2001.
CNN beat Fox News and MSNBC in the key A25-54 demographic across the 24-hour day, as well as on weekends. The last time CNN had defeated Fox News among adults 25-54 across the 24-hour day for a quarter was Q4 of 2001.
CNN was not only No. 1 in cable news in total day in the demo during Q4, it was also the top-ranked network on all of cable TV in the demo when measuring across the 6 a.m.-6 a.m. ET time period.
All of CNN’s late afternoon, evening and prime time shows beat MSNBC in Q4 among adults 25-54. Additionally, both of Jake Tapper‘s shows—The Lead and State of the Union—won their respective time slots among adults 25-54.
That said, CNN’s prime time shows averaged fewer total viewers than MSNBC’s prime time slate.
Relative to Q4 2019, CNN posted triple-digit percent growth: Up +130% in total prime time viewers, +176% in the prime time demo, +109% in total day viewers and +141% in the total day demo.
Relative to Q4 2016, CNN was up +67% in total prime time viewers, +36% in the prime time demo, +71% in total day viewers, and +46% in the total day demo. CNN grew more among adults 25-54 than the competition.
MSNBC didn’t exactly struggle in the 4th quarter. In fact, every regularly scheduled show hit a record quarterly rating in total viewers.
Morning Joe (1.6 million), every daytime hour between 9 a.m.-4 p.m. ET, Deadline: White House (2.4 million), The Beat with Ari Melber (2.3 million), The ReidOut (2.3 million), All in with Chris Hayes (2.4 million), The Rachel Maddow Show (3.5 million), The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell (2.8 million), and The 11th Hour with Brian Williams.
The 11th Hour’s 2.4 million total viewer average put it ahead of both Fox News and CNN in the time slot.
That said, despite beating CNN in total prime time viewers, MSNBC did average fewer total viewers than CNN across the 24-hour day, as Americans seemed more likely to watch wall-to-wall breaking news concerning the election on CNN than on MSNBC in daytime hours and on weekends.
Relative to Q4 2019, MSNBC was +37% in total prime time viewers, +49% in the prime time demo, +36% in total day viewers and +51% in the total day demo.
Relative to Q4 2016, MSNBC posted more total audience growth than its competition. The network was +86% in total prime time viewers, and +99% in total day viewers, +32% in the prime time demo, and +36% in the total day demo.
Q4 2020, Monday-Sunday (Nielsen, Live+SD):
|PRIME TIME 8-11 p.m.||Fox News||CNN||MSNBC|
|• Total Viewers:||3,776,000||2,366,000||2,477,000|
|TOTAL DAY 6 a.m.-6 a.m.||Fox News||CNN||MSNBC|
|• Total Viewers:||1,836,000||1,482,000||1,442,000|