Fox News Looks Like a Frontrunner

Fox News Channel for the first time in its 20-year history led all cable networks in primetime and total-day ratings during the first quarter in what was an overall strong showing for cable news networks during this presidential-election year.

Riding ratings momentum from its coverage of presidential debates, town halls and general breaking news, FNC averaged 2.4 million viewers in primetime during the period of Dec. 28, 2015, to March 27 — a 37% increase compared with the same period last year — to top all cable networks, according to Nielsen.

While Fox News generated more viewers than any other cable news channel, CNN experienced the biggest year-to-year audience gain, posting a whopping 162% increase to 1.4 million viewers compared with 548,000 in first-quarter 2015. MSNBC (with 903,000 viewers, up 65%), CNBC (425,000, up 7%), HLN (366,000, up 2%) and Fox Business Network (198,000, up 187%) all posted gains during the first quarter.

Non-news networks didn’t fare as well during the period: Among the top 10 most watched cable networks, only Fox News, CNN and HGTV posted year-to- year gains. ESPN finished second for the quarter, averaging 2 million viewers, down 6% from first-quarter 2015.

USA Network and HGTV both finished with 1.8 million viewers, but HGTV posted a 16% increase, while USA was down 8%.

TBS lost 13% of its audience in finishing fifth, with 1.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Discovery Channel drew 1.5 million viewers in the quarter, down 6%, while tied at an average 1.4 million viewers were CNN, Disney Channel (down 18%), AMC (down 19%) and TNT (down 14%).

On a total-day basis, Fox News led all comers, averaging 1.3 million viewers, followed by Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Adult Swim, HGTV and USA Network.

Among millennial viewers (ages 18-34), ESPN was tops for the quarter in primetime, averaging 410,000 viewers, followed by TBS (376,000 viewers), Adult Swim (361,000), USA Network (350,000) and AMC (312,000), Nielsen said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.