Cable News Quarterly Viewership: Fox News Dominates, Tucker Carlson Wins Big, CNN Rising

The full cable news ratings for the second quarter of 2020 are out. There's a lot to break down, here are the key numbers and my thoughts:

The top 10 shows on cable news and their viewership averages for the quarter:

Cuomo Prime Time was CNN's highest-rated show of the quarter. It ranked 17th with 1,988,000 viewers.

The three top cable news channels did rank 1-3 in all of cable in Q2 of 2020; in the order of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.

As you can tell from the top 10, Fox News again dominated the competition. Its audience in the quarter was the largest in the network's history in both total day and primetime, according to Nielsen Media Research.

These are my thoughts on the data:

Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are close: I was asked a few weeks ago in my mailbag who is the most valuable talent in all of media. I said it was close between Joe Rogan, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson. These numbers show just how close Hannity and Carlson are in that category. Tucker Carlson Tonight delivered the highest viewership in cable news history, breaking the record previously held by Hannity last quarter. However, the race was neck-and-neck. It couldn't get tighter. Carlson beat Hannity by only 20,000, which in cable news viewership is nothing. But Hannity leads him in June — barely, 4,323,000 to 4,256,000.

Carlson's viewership sparks on nights where it's heavy on social topics. He's known for pushing back against mainstream media narratives. Carlson has been in the news nearly every day the past few weeks for his comments on race, riots, and police brutality. And his viewers can't get enough of his unique style of thinking. Hannity's headlines often come from his monologues on Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This upcoming quarter will bode well for him, as a result.

Hannity does air at a more competitive time slot at 9 p.m. For Hannity, it's Maddow (3.1 million) on MSNBC and Cuomo (2 million) on CNN. Carlson airs against MSNBC's Chris Hayes (1.9 million) and CNN's Anderson Cooper (1.9 million). But, Carlson and Hannity are the clear top two cable news personalities right now and two of the biggest difference-makers in media.

CNN has momentum. CNN clearly trails its competitors in total viewership. But it has experienced large growth since last year. CNN is up 115% from last June in total day viewership and 146% in primetime, 8-11 p.m. ET. Fox News is up 39% and 53%, respectively. MSNBC was up 38% and 21% in those categories.

Part of CNN's gain can be contributed to Chris Cuomo, whose Q-rating skyrocketed with his brother, Andrew (governor of New York), during the pandemic. CNN's talents lack the gravitas of Fox News' but Cuomo is the most energetic of the pack.

Fox News' demographic. Critics of Fox News will say its demographic is older and not as important. Nope. Fox News also led the competition in the adults 25-54 demographic, the key demo. The top six shows of the quarter in that demo came from Fox News: Tucker Carlson Tonight (791,000), Hannity (754,000), Special Report (668,00), The Five (655,000) and The Ingraham Angle (655,000), and The Story (603,000). Same in the mornings, as Fox and Friends continues to win in total and in the key demographic on both weekdays and weekends.

Cable news vs. sports programming? Sports programming gets a lot of attention online, but it's not even in the same stratosphere as cable news on TV. First Take was the top sports show this past Friday (most recent day recorded). It drew 228,000. Sure, it's a downtime without sports. I'll be kind and say for argument's sake that doubles during football season (not sure it will). That'd rank around 40 up against cable news. Even PTI, sports TV's highest-viewed program normally, would come in after 35. MSNBC Live ranked 35 this past quarter with a 1,161,000 average. PTI isn't getting that in 2020.

As I pointed out yesterday, Fox and Friends Weekend, which just added former ESPN host Will Cain, averages more in one day than the ESPN shows have been in a whole week.

For the quarter, here's how the sports channels ranked:

21. ESPN

60. FS1

72. ESPN2

75. NFL Network

79. NBC Sports Network

96. NBA TV

On to the next quarter with the election about to ramp up.

Written by
Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics.. Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.