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Bret Baier’s Influence, Morning Show Importance and Other Thoughts on Seismic Cable News Summer

Labor Day is unofficially the end of summer for Americans. If the cable news industry subscribes to such thought, summer 2020 will be a highlight long remembered.

“Everything on TV is down,” is shouted ad nauseam. A lazy and incorrect narrative.

August followed June and July’s dominance with its eye-popping top 10 list:

  1. Hannity, Fox News – 4.7 million
  2. Tucker Carlson, Fox News – 4.4 million
  3. The Five, Fox News – 3.4 million
  4. Ingraham Angle, Fox News – 3.3 million
  5. Rachel Maddow, MSNBC – 3.1 million
  6. Special Report, Fox News – 2.8 million
  7. The Story, Fox News – 2.4 million
  8. The Last Word, MSNBC – 2.3 million
  9. 11th Hour, MSNBC – 2.2 million
  10. All in with Chris Hayes, MSNBC – 2 million

Bret Baier’s influence

Opinions flood the top-viewed cable news programs. In a line graph of daily viewership, the rate of which Americans seek opinions over straight news is staggering. That excludes, though, Bret Baier.

Fox News’ respected anchor draws opinion-like numbers on his daily news show, Special Report. In the 6 p.m. ET hour, Baier competes with powerful local and national broadcast news airings; particularly, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. Yet, even with similar topic selection, nearly 3 million daily viewers choose Baier, who improved his July average, 2.6 million, by 200,000.

Baier sits near the top of Fox News’ hill of valuable personalities. While the order begins with Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson — more on that later — Baier has made the case he’s third. He differs from other top Fox talents, and his value above replacement is substantial.

Special Report rounds out Fox News’ identity. Its opinionated primetime lineup is a juggernaut, but Baier’s keeps the newsroom relevant, attracting a wide range of different viewers with lengthy stories and reports.

With the election fast approaching, Baier’s show should ascend as it did in Q2 of 2020. At the height of the coronavirus, Special Report averaged 3.7 million viewers.

Bret Baier’s style isn’t flashy. In this divisive time, few straight news broadcasters have created separation on the national level.

The morning shows

In cable news, primetime is gold. It’s when networks showcase their top personalities, knowing millions will tune in, and just as many will read the next morning in the headlines. But in importance, morning shows are second by setting the tone for the day.

In August, Fox & Friends led the way with 1.6 million viewers. MSNBC’s Morning Joe followed at 1.3 million. CNN’s New Day, again, was non-competitive with just 619,000 viewers.

CNN’s morning struggles are glaring. And unlike other CNN programs, it is losing to MSNBC head-to-head in the coveted 25-54 demo. This past month in the demo, Morning Joe beat New Day 218,000 to 135,000.

CNN must address this as its competitors receive invaluable boosts early in the morning.

Fox & Friends is a go-to from 6 to 9 am. It attracts the biggest names in Washington and serves as a vehicle that elevates the network’s depth chart. Its weekend version — which now features Will Cain, Pete Hegseth, and Jedediah Bila — draws around the same number of viewers despite a four-hour runtime and runs over the field:

MSNBC should look to bolsters its morning coverage on the weekends to compete. But on weekdays, the Morning Joe, similarly, is a morning habit for millions of TV viewers and a one-stop-shop for news programming. At MSNBC, in notoriety, the morning show only trails the Rachel Maddow Show.

Additionally, morning shows, due to tonnage and variety, are essential to a channel’s profits. As Brian Stelter reported in his book, “Hoax,” Fox & Friends “makes well north of $100 million a year advertising.” Presumably, the Morning Joe attracts a massive chunk of interest from blue-chip advertisers.

CNN also doesn’t present the star power of Joe Scarborough, Ainsley Earhardt, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade in the mornings.

Nicolle Wallace’s push

Speaking of star power, MSNBC is banking on Nicolle Wallace. MSNBC is giving her an aggressive push as a current and future face of the network. Mid-August, the network reshuffled its lineup around Wallace expanding her Deadline: White House to two hours (now 4-6 p.m.). In doing so, the network demoted stalwart Chuck Todd and his MTP Daily to 1 p.m.

NBC is so high on Wallace, NBCUniversal chief executive, Jeff Shell, reportedly floated the idea of having her replace Todd on Meet the Press. That is drastic and puzzling but shows what top executives see in Wallace.

Network pushes are precarious and oftentimes come at a cost of other rising talents. Though, this time, NBC seems certain it chose wisely.

Wallace’s Deadline ranked 12th in August with 2 million viewers. A high number that could also grow.

Fox News’s afternoon anchor, The Five, with 3.4 million, trailed only Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight in August. Dinner time cable news interest is at an all-time high.

Could Wallace turn a 2 million average into 2.5 million? The resources have been provided.

Hannity’s victory

Sean Hannity vs. Tucker Carlson has been the race to watch this summer. The primetime hosts have distanced themselves as the industry’s top stars. With Bill O’Reilly out of the discussion and Megyn Kelly’s future up the air, there isn’t a close No. 3.

Each night, Hannity and Carlson battle for first place in cable news. Often, both eclipse 4 million viewers and are separated by only 100,000 or so.

August was a win for Hannity, who averaged 4.7 million viewers. Though it wasn’t a definitive victory over Carlson.

Hannity undoubtedly benefited from the RNC, which was carried heavier at 9 p.m., than Carlson’s 8 p.m. time slot.

The winner of the night is often determined by that day’s top story. Hannity moves the needle with topics on President Trump and the GOP. Carlson isn’t, as he says, “political.” Instead, Carlson is a lightning rod on social topics and current events.

With only 56 days until the election, usually, this season would favor Hannity. But with nationwide riots, race overtaking logic, shootings, and other jarring events in the culture war, Carlson is slated for a deafening fall.

Other notes

August 2019 vs. August 2020 in total day viewership:

  • Fox News: 1.8 million viewers – up 32%
  • CNN: 1 million viewers – up 47%
  • MSNBC: 1.2 million viewers – up 44%

Year-over-year primetime:

  • Fox News: 3.6 million viewers – up 49%
  • CNN: 1.7 million viewers – up 15%
  • MSNBC: 2.2 million viewers – up 48%

CNN performed well in the demo:

To interview Bobby Burack, contact him on Twitter @burackbobby_.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers any news story that deserves attention but focuses on media. His interests include reading Stephen King novels, avoiding traffic on the road, and pretending to solve true-crime mysteries. He still believes Cersei should've won and encourages everyone to always question the news.

6 Comments

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  1. Bobby, Maybe you can comment on this, but I always like to compare the sum or MSNBC and CNN vs. FOXN. Fox News has been the only channel that dares to lean to the right, hence capitalizing on 40-50% of the country. So overall more left leaning people are watching, 3.9 MM (CNN&MSNBC) vs. 3.6 MM (Fox News). That feels right to me, that right leaning/conservatives are slightly in the minority vs. left leaning/liberals overall for the country.

  2. Honestly, even with the known bias of Fox, they really only appear leaning right because the other cable networks (entire networks reach other channels) have gone full lefty.

    I remember watching slick silly Monica news daily on msnbc and CNBC and cnn when there was no Foxnews.

    If FNC wasn’t around today, we might not see any real news. Their ‘news’ coverage is so accurate, that it looks like it’s Right of Center.

    • Chris, I’ll agree that Fox gets mischaracterized as being further right of center than CNN/MSNBC are left of center. I’d even agree that they are less to the right than CNN/MSNBC are to the left. But I don’t agree that they only appear right of center because of they are down the middle. They are definitely right of center and their line-ups reflect that. They have middle guys (Baier and Wallace) and then their nightly line-up is all right with Tucker, Hannity, and Ingram.

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