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July’s cable news ratings are in.
This week in my OutKick Media Mailbag, I compared Tucker Carlson’s reign atop cable news to Bill O’Reilly’s. O’Reilly’s 20+ year run is the gold standard for cable news. However, should anyone challenge his legacy, Carlson is the odds-on favorite.
Carlson, like O’Reilly, has pulled away from the pack in cable news ratings. In July, Carlson was the only host to average over 3 million viewers:
- Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News – 3 million
- Hannity, Fox News – 2.7 million
- The Five, Fox News –2.5 million
- Rachel Maddow, MSNBC – 2.3 million
- The Ingraham Angle, Fox News – 2.1 million
- Special Report, Fox News – 1.8 million
- Fox News Primetime, Fox News – 1.7 million
- Gutfeld, Fox News – 1.5 million
- The Last Word, MSNBC – 1.5 million
- Outnumbered, Fox News – 1.4 million
Rachel Maddow led cable news in the first quarter of 2021, the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency. Though MSNBC’s ratings still spike from 1.4 million to 2.3 million at 9 pm when Maddow comes on and then dip back down to 1.5 million at 10 pm when she signs off, her numbers have normalized to a lower average than I had suspected they would. But that has less to do with Maddow and more to do with liberal media struggling to capitalize on existing storylines.
Despite the newfound interest on Jan. 6 this week, the Capitol riot has not been the ratings cow MSNBC and CNN had hoped it would be. CNN rode Jan 6. to No. 1 in cable news in January. Now, CNN has stretched the riot out to July and lost 70% of its audience in the process.
CNN and MSNBC may see a temporary boost in ratings soon though. The CDC plans to recommend indoor mask mandates in hotspot areas once again. The news is simple, and Maddow, Don Lemon, and the crew can quickly blame Trump and right-wing media for the latest COVID wave. Blaming Tucker Carlson and Trump for vaccine hesitancy marginally drew eyeballs when cities re-opened in the spring. As restrictions return, liberal viewers will seek someone to blame.
Speaking of MSNBC, its ratings are more concerning than its competitors’ numbers. Overall, MSNBC doesn’t resonate with viewers, especially adults aged 25-54, the demographic on which advertisers focus. Total viewership is fun, yet networks generate ad revenue from the demo.
In the 25-54 demo in July, MSNBC ranked third in total day viewership:
- FNC: 201,000
- CNN: 125,000
- MSNBC: 103,000
And finished third in primetime:
- FNC: 333,000
- CNN: 190,000
- MSNBC: 168,00
Keep in mind, Maddow’s reach inflates MSNBC’s primetime viewership in the demo. In July, Maddow averaged 302,000 viewers among adults aged 25-54. Without Maddow, MSNBC is a distant third behind FNC and CNN. Sponsors notice younger viewers turning away from MSNBC, which will inevitably reshape their ad rate negotiations in the future.
CNN, meanwhile, has once again failed in the morning. New Day is a disaster. And somehow, its latest iteration, centered around Brianna Keilar, is the worst version yet. Americans are angry. Some wake up sour. But no one wants to wake up to someone who disdains robust conversation like Keilar does.
While CNN’s demo ratings top MSNBC’s in most time slots, New Day continues to tank on levels to which only ESPN’s High Noon can relate. From June 28 to July 23, New Day was the least-watched program in all of cable news in the demo between 6 am -12 am ET. In total viewership, New Day drew only 450,000 daily viewers in July. In short, CNN’s morning show is awful.
Fox News also continues to search for a permanent host for Fox News Primetime at 7 pm. Given the scale of primetime, Fox’s impending decision is the most intriguing story in the industry. Fox News Primetime averaged 1.7 million viewers in July, 7th overall. The program spiked the week of Jun 28 with Jesse Watters in the chair. From my view — this is not a report — Watters, Brian Kilmeade and Will Cain have made the strongest cases for the job thus far. Watters draws the highest ratings, Kilmeade is most familiar to the audience, and Cain has the highest upside. We’ll see how that unfolds.
Looking ahead to the fall, Fox, CNN, and MSNBC will obviously not repeat the ratings they had last year because of the contentious election. However, all three channels should see mild boosts in the months to come.
June and July have not been ideal for cable news. First, the storylines have not been there. But more importantly, Americans have been anxious to finally go outdoors, see friends and breathe without a mask this summer. Even the most routine cable news viewers have taken nights off to leave the house now that the pandemic has — we thought — ended.
Expect the cable news ratings to increase as the seasons change, but the order of top 10 ranking, led by Tucker Carlson, will likely remain the same.