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As Election Week Went On, CNN Overtook Fox News for TV Share

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stand onstage after delivering remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 7, 2020, after being declared the winners of the presidential election.
(Image credit: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

After a grueling five days of ballot counting, the 2020 election finally ended on Saturday, Nov. 7. Around 11:25 a.m. ET, the Associated Press and TV networks declared that Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States, with Kamala Harris as his VP-elect, thanks to Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes which propelled him over the 270 threshold.

Inscape, Vizio’s data unit with insights from a panel of more than 16 million smart TVs, was tracking live viewership from Election Day onwards and shared some insights.

Related: Networks All In as Election Day Turned Into Election Days

Starting on Nov. 3, Fox News led the share of TVs tuned into election coverage until mid-day on Nov. 4, when CNN took over as No. 1 — and stayed that way. Some specific stats for the big three cable news networks:

  • The share of TVs tuned into CNN (out of all active TVs that Inscape measured) remained consistently around 6.5% during the daytime, and only dipped below 4% after the Biden-Harris victory speeches ended.
  • Fox News, which was edging close to an 11% share of TVs during election night, saw a steady viewership decrease as data showing Biden’s surge became the primary narrative.
  • MSNBC remained steady with between 2-4% share of TVs.

2020 Election Coverage -- Hourly overall TV share by station

(Image credit: Inscape)

Inscape also examined viewership crossover among the three cable news networks. Of those viewers who watched MSNBC Nov. 1-9, 64% also watched at least 10 minutes of CNN. For CNN viewers, 32% tuned into at least 10 minutes of Fox News.

Crossover viewing between CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel

(Image credit: Inscape)

Viewership When the Election Was Finally Called

The overall total share of TVs watching election-related news on Nov. 7 across broadcast and cable news networks jumped from 9.8% at 11:25 a.m. ET (right when the news hit that Biden won) to 14% in just 20 minutes. TV share peaked at 15% right around 12:31p.m. ET.

2020 USA Election Coverage -- Minute by minute overall TV share

(Image credit: Inscape)

Here’s an hourly look at what happened specifically on cable news networks on Nov. 7. Unsurprisingly, viewership spiked between 11a.m. and noon ET, and then again after 8 p.m. as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris delivered their speeches. During that point in the evening, MSNBC had a higher TV share than Fox News.

2020 Election Coverage -- Hourly overall TV share by station

(Image credit: Inscape)

Here’s the minute-by-minute graph where you can see the jump, particularly with CNN, that occurred as networks announced Biden’s win. Viewership was fairly sustained for the next two hours except for on Fox News, when tune-in started to drop off before noon.

2020 USA Election Coverage -- Minute by minute by station TV share

(Image credit: Inscape)

Where Were People Tuning in From?

On Election Day itself (Nov. 3), the top local area markets across the main broadcast networks and cable news channels included Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; St. Louis, Missouri; Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama. 

On Saturday, Nov. 7 when networks finally called the election for Biden, top local area markets across the main broadcast networks and cable news channels included West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce, Florida; Columbus, Ohio, Birmingham, Alabama; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

After the Speeches, Everyone Switched to NBC

As cable news viewership dwindled after the Biden-Harris celebration event, viewers increasingly turned over to NBC to catch what, for some, was sure to be a highly anticipated episode of Saturday Night Live. The show was delayed due to overtime in college football followed by a short NBC newscast, and NBC’s TV share only increased as people waited for SNL to come on.

2020 USA Election Coverage -- Minute by minute by station TV share

(Image credit: Inscape)