News Networks See Big Gains In Viewership During Tumultuous 2020

The major news networks are touting big ratings gains in 2020, after the coronavirus crisis and the presidential election drove viewers in record numbers to their lineups.

Fox News will finish the year again at top of the news channels in primetime, with an average of 3.6 million viewers, up 45% from the same period the previous year. MSNBC averaged 2.2 million, a boost of 24%. CNN saw an even greater increase, as it was up 85% to average 1.8 million.

The figures are for the Dec. 30, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020, and are from Nielsen via Fox News.

In the 25-54 demo, Fox News averaged 644,000 viewers, a boost of 65%, while CNN more than doubled its audience, up 104% to 521,000. MSNBC increased 29% to 361,000.

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In total day, Fox News again led, up 35% to 1.9 million in total viewers. MSNBC averaged 1.2 million, up 27%, while CNN posted 1.1 million, a boost of 75%.

Things were tighter in the 25-54 demo, with Fox News averaging 350,000, up 46%; CNN increased 91% to 312,000; and MSNBC averaged 203,000, a boost of 33%.

Other highlights:

Fox News: The network said that it averaged the largest primetime and total day audience in cable news history. Hannity was the number one show in cable news for the fourth straight year in total viewers, while Tucker Carlson Tonight topped the 25-54 demo.

CNN: The network said that it had its most watched year in primetime and total day total viewers, but it also highlighted its ratings growth since the election and through Dec. 14. In primetime, CNN released numbers showing that it averaged 2.48 million total viewers to MSNBC’s 2.45 million and Fox News’ 3.08 million. In the 25-54 demo, CNN averaged 766,000, compared to 545,000 for Fox and 443,000 for MSNBC.

In total day numbers since the election, CNN averaged 1.6 million, to 1.53 million for Fox News and 1.49 million for MSNBC. In the 25-54 demo, CNN averaged 477,000, to 286,000 for Fox News and 263,000 for MSNBC.

MSNBC: The network said that it had its highest rated year in network history, with The Rachel Maddow Show as its top show, finishing with an average of 3.4 million, the highest rating ever for a regularly scheduled show on the network. The network said that Rachel Maddow also has topped the ratings this month through Dec. 21, with 3.49 million viewers, to 3.09 million for Hannity and 2.26 million for CNN’s Cuomo Primetime and special programming. MSNBC also is breaking out its numbers not since Election Day, but since Nov. 8, when Biden was projected as the winner. It supplied numbers showing that in total day through Dec. 21, MSNBC topped in total viewers with 1.75 million, followed by Fox News with 1.67 million and CNN with 1.55 million.

That’s a whirlwind of figures, and only scratches the surface on the time and energy that all the networks spend to comb through them and trumpet their bright spots.


Deadline is an online news site founded by Nikki Finke in 2006. The site is updated several times a day, with entertainment industry news as its focus. It has been a brand of Penske Media Corporation since 2009.

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