Year-End Report: Viewership Trends Across Cable News Channels

Earlier this fall we partnered with Inscape, the TV data company with glass-level insights from a panel of more than 9 million smart TVs and devices, for a look at viewership crossover trends for three big news channels: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, plus C-SPAN (given that it’s sort of in the same space in terms of intensive political coverage). With 2018 drawing to a close, we decided to expand the analysis window to see how they fared over the course of the year — from Jan. 1 through Dec. 15.

First, we looked at crossover among all of these networks. A note about methodology: You have to do more than just flip past a station with your remote to count as a “crossover viewer” in Inscape’s system. For the first data set below, the minimum threshold was set to two minutes. Some key insights:

  • Viewers of each channel were most likely to also be tuning into CNN, with the highest crossover coming from C-SPAN watchers (74%), followed by MSNBC (69%).
  • But interestingly enough, CNN viewers were the least likely to also check out C-SPAN (5.9%), and they favored Fox News (49%) slightly over MSNBC (42%).
  • Fox News fans were most likely to also check out CNN (58%) 

We also looked at crossover with the threshold set to 10 minutes, and the numbers shifted a bit:

  • CNN still had highest crossover for viewers of the other channels, although slightly lower.
  • CNN viewers who spent more than 10 minutes on another news channel were just slightly more likely to be watching MSNBC — a departure from the two-minute threshold where Fox led.
  • Even less time was spent on C-SPAN for crossover viewers, perhaps unpredictably. 

When it comes to viewer location, there are hotbeds of CNN viewership on both the East and West coasts, while there’s higher tune-in for Fox News in the South, particularly the Florida panhandle. (On the heatmaps below, the darker the color in the graphic, the more households were tuning in.)

We also looked at crossover between popular primetime shows on these channels: Hannity on Fox News, Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. With the two-minute threshold, the biggest crossover was between Maddow and Cooper, with over half (59%) of Maddow’s viewers also tuning in to Cooper’s show. For Hannity, 33% watched AC360 and just 20% checked out Maddow. Anderson Cooper fans were more likely to take a more balanced approach, with 35% also watching Maddow and 31% seeing Hannity.

When it comes to a 10-minute threshold, the numbers in general shrink a bit further: 11% of Hannity fans watched 10 or more minutes of Maddow, while 21% watched AC360. And 18% of Maddow viewers checked out Hannity, while still over half (54%) tuned into AC360.