Election Drama Kept People Glued to Cable News in September

Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first Presidential Debate on Sept. 29, 2020
(Image credit: Screengrab/ABC News)

It’s been a big year for politics in general, but in September things really started heating up. Not only was conversation around the 2020 election growing louder by the day, the month also brought the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. All of the surrounding drama has helped keep people glued to news networks. 

According to Vizio’s Inscape, the TV data company with insights from a panel of more than 16 million smart TVs, overall, nearly 60% of active TVs tuned in to the first presidential debate. (Read our full recap of the debate here.)

When news broke that President Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 — mere days after the debate — viewers tuned into cable news to get the details. 

Per Inscape, of all the live, linear minutes watched from Friday, Oct. 2 through Sunday, Oct. 4, 5.16% of the time was spent on Fox News -— slightly less watch-time than the previous weekend (5.17% from Sept. 25-27). CNN, on the other hand, more than doubled its share of watch-time, up to 4.61% vs. 2.20%. Time spent with MSNBC was up as well, with a 2.17% share duration this past weekend compared to 1.80% the weekend of Sept. 25-27. 

In this time of political polarization across our country, one interesting question is how many cable news viewers take a “fair and balanced” approach to TV news consumption by watching more than one of the major networks. Inscape examined viewership crossover in September among the big three: Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. 

The highest crossover: 54% of MSNBC viewers tuned into at least 10 minutes of CNN during September. The lowest crossover: only 12% of Fox News viewers tuned into MSNBC. CNN was the most evenly split, with 26% also watching Fox News and 34% also watching MSNBC.

Cable news crossover viewing for September 2020

Inscape also examined crossover for some of the Sunday morning news shows (NBC's Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper and Fox News Sunday). On the high end: 21% of State of the Union viewers tuned into at least 10 minutes of Meet the Press in September. The lowest crossover: 3.9% of Fox News Sunday viewers tuned into State of the Union.

Crossover viewing between Sunday morning news shows in September 2020

But what do all these viewers have in common? They’ve all watched at least some of the below shows in September, and game shows and soap operas dominate the list (excludes sports/news/religious programming).

Shows Sunday morning news viewers also watched in September 2020