Well, it is the end of the year, and all of the networks have received their final numbers and are eager to spin them to their heart’s content. As expected, Fox News was the big winner in the cable news ratings war, averaging nearly 1.8 million viewers in primetime and over a million in total day viewership. The Fair & Balanced network also saw growth in the key 25-54 demographic and now places second in cable primetime audience and third overall. Only ESPN beats it in primetime while Nickelodeon and Adult Swim have higher total day ratings.
Therefore, second place in the cable news world came down to CNN and MSNBC, and sadly for the Lean Forward network, they not only came in third, but saw their ratings in the key demographic sharply decline. As for CNN, President Jeff Zucker’s decision to present more original programming and specials resulted in more viewers, especially in the evening. For the year, CNN averaged over 700,000 viewers in primetime and 235K in the 25-54 demo. In total day, the network’s audience was 490,000 with 149K in the key demographic.
Beyond that, CNN widened the gap between it and MSNBC to its widest in a decade while getting closer to Fox than it has been in seven years. As for MSNBC, the network did release a statement touting its ratings increases in the fourth quarter compared to last year. While the channel seemed to indicate this is due largely to its decision to focus on breaking news compared to opinion and discussion, it is more likely the result of the network’s unending coverage of Donald Trump. (The other networks have also seen bumps this quarter based off the GOP debates, ‘exclusive’ interviews, focus on his latest controversy and live coverage of rallies.)
While Morning Joe continues to struggle against CNN’s surging New Day — it barely beat Chris Cuomo’s show in total viewers but lost badly in 25-54 — and nobody really wants to see Chuck Todd on a daily basis, Rachel Maddow continues to be the one shining star at the network. Long the ratings champ for the channel, The Rachel Maddow Show once again led the way in 2015, averaging 849,000 viewers for the year while drawing 160K in the demo. In the fourth quarter, Rachel nearly topped a million viewers on a nightly basis.
While in primetime, both Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell beat their CNN opponents heads up, their shows struggle in the 25-54 demo. They also don’t have the wide margins over their competition that Maddow does, with the feisty host easily besting Anderson Cooper (or original programming) during her hour.
Now, perhaps Phil Griffin’s approach towards more live coverage, neutral/right viewpoints and straight news might work in 2016 — it may already be — but for the time being, Maddow is the lone beacon of hope for the network.
Image via MSNBC