Depending on who you listen to it’s easy to know who is the ratings leader in cable news. The answer? EVERYBODY!! Each news station seems to measure their place on the ladder by its own metric. But how do these networks actually rank in television viewership? CNN likes to take some convoluted formula that includes CNN.com, Twitter and Facebook hits. MSNBC will usually reduce their data pool by only mentioning the Target Demo of 25-54 years of age. Fox News likes to combine prime time and repeat viewers in reporting their TV ratings. Traditionally, by the Nielsen ratings Fox News dominates the other cable news networks (Note: I do not consider Headline News a cable news station. For one, I don’t know anyone who watches HLN. For two, Nancy Grace scares the living bejeezus out of me). For the month of July, Fox News was the #3 network in all of cable. CNN was #15, and MSNBC came in at #26.
Here are how each network does head to head in morning and prime time battles. Ive bolded the choice I most often watch or think is the best political show to not hide any biases I may have. Data is from Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 viewership and similar ratings from 1 year ago.
Ratings are listed as such: Network – News Show – Total Viewers (Demo 25-54 Viewers) — 2008 Total Viewers (Demo 25-54 Viewers). If the 2008 data is italicized the person currently hosting the time slot was not there a year ago today.
- Fox News – Fox & Friends – 919,000 (303,000) — 736,000 (198,000)
- American Morning – 337,000 (126,000) — 325,000 (129,000)
- Morning Joe – 289,000 (98,000) — 229,000 (94,000)
Fox & Friends routinely wins this time slot by a 3:1 ratio. However, on occasion American Morning beats them in the 25-54 demo, which plays into the perception that only old people watch Fox News. Morning Joe has steadily been increasing their average ratings but is still in 3rd place. Personally, Morning Joe is my favorite political show on television and I wish more people would watch and listen to Joe Scarborough. Its one of the few shows on cable that isn’t afraid to have politicians and columnists with varying opinions all on the show at the same time. I find the Fox & Friends hosts insufferable.
5PM – 6PM EST:
- Glenn Beck – 2,331,000 (687,000) — 836,000 (235,000)
- Situation Room – 748,000 (159,000) — 654,000 (168,000)
- Hardball w/Chris Matthews – 621,000 (133,000) — 523,000 (174,000)
Since the election, Glenn Beck has tossed this early evening time slot upside down. His ratings are unheard of in this time slot, tripling what Fox News was doing a year ago and routinely beating his competition by a 4:1 ratio. Unfortunately I don’t think he is in it for his true beliefs. He is a fear monger. And he will say whatever controversial to improve his ratings and his Q-rating. His ratings are impressive and even I sometimes watch for the shock factor, but I hate that he is seen as a leading voice in the conservative movement. With a number of his sponsors recently dropping his show, it will be interesting to see if Fox News sticks behind him as the advertising dollars begin to fade.
6PM – 7PM EST:
- Special Report w/Bret Baier – 2,086,000 (567,000) — 1,224,000 (213,000)
- Situation Room – 612,000 (155,000) — 622,000 (178,000)
- The Ed Show – 607,000 (192,000) — 492,000 (128,000)
I didn’t mention this above but the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer is one of the most consistent shows over the last year with a loyal audience. In my opinion he is one of the best interviewers in the news today. Typically I watch him over anyone else, but I do enjoy when Special Report has the panel join in the conversation for the final half hour. Bret Baier replaced Brit Hume after the election and his holding his own. MSNBC has seen a jump in rankings since replacing the more bland David Gregory’s election coverage with Ed Schultz. Ed Schultz is the cheap antithesis impression of Rush Limbaugh. He is trying to play the tough guy role but looks painfully awkward trying to perform. He wants everything Rush has, but isn’t charismatic enough to pull it off.
7PM – 8PM EST:
- Fox Report w/Shep Smith – 1,750,000 (528,000) — 1,308,000 (276,000)
- Hardball w/Chris Matthews – 908,000 (293,000) — 584,000 (186,000)
- Lou Dobbs Tonight – 648,000 (198,000) — 846,000 (171,000)
Hardball gets a much higher rating during his replay which is in a better prime time position. I enjoy Chris Matthews whenever he doesn’t go on a Sarah Palin tangent – although that’s the same for all hosts on MSNBC. I think it was written into all of their 2009 contracts that they must mention her name at least twice a show. But whenever Matthews and Pat Buchanan debate – Im sure to listen intently. Lou Dobbs ratings are dropping like a rock. It’s probably only a matter of time (or finding a high-testing replacement) before he is put to pasture. Sheperd Smith typically wins the time slot 2:1 with a straight news show.
8PM – 9PM EST:
- The O’Reilly Factor – 3,193,000 (856,000) — 2,329,000 (481,000)
- Countdown w/Keith Olbermann – 1,461,000 (487,000) — 1,289,000 (425,000)
- Campbell Brown – 801,000 (202,000) — 659,000 (270,000)
Bill O’Reilly dominates this time slot, no questions about it. He is routinely up on Olby 2.5:1 at minimum. In the target 25-54 demo, Olbermann would be even and actually won a few times before the election last year. Nowadays he is down 2:1. If your friends say that O’Reilly is a right wing nut they don’t probably watch him. While he leans right in most cases, unlike Olbermann he is fair enough to present dissenting opinions on his show. Olbermann’s next right-leaning guest will be his first. The Edward R. Murrow impersonator prefers to listen to himself talk and preach to others. His ego that has lost him jobs at every previous stop and has created enemies among his co-workers such as Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, and formerly Dan Abrams is so far tolerated at MSNBC because he is the top dog in the ratings. As far as opinion-based cable news shows, I think its important to catch both shows to get a balanced diet of conservative and progressive thought. Poor Campbell Brown is no match for the testosterone hour, but for a more level-headed approach her show is worth a peak, when Keith is relentlessly bashing Republicans and O’Reilly is talking about himself again.
9PM – 10PM EST:
- Hannity – 2,866,000 (887,000) — 1,904,000 (538,000)
- Rachel Maddow Show – 1,021,000 (306,000) — 594,000 (188,000)
- Larry King Live – 923,000 (275,000) — 1,131,000 (285,000)
Actually, I usually don’t watch any of these shows. But if something is going on that is worthwhile, Ill flip between Hannity and Maddow. Like with replacing David Gregory with The Ed Show, MSNBC got a huge ratings boost by replacing Dan Abrams with Rachel Maddow. Rachel started her career on fire – even besting Keith Olbermann a few nights. At first, I thought she was a breath of fresh air and she is definitely one of, if not the smartest liberal commentator out there. It might have got to her head though — her show is increasingly more and more snarky and her ratings are dropping. Larry King and her bounce between 2nd and 3rd on a seemingly daily basis. Maddow does still rate well in the key demo, occasionally beating her prime time lead-in. It will be interesting to see what CNN does with Larry King’s slot once he retires. I expect it to go to Anderson Cooper. Sean Hannity is another conservative that can rub me the wrong way depending on the topic. I don’t think he is a very good debater and he is very repetitive, which is probably why he is so well received on the radio. However, his TV guests are usually pretty good, and while I do miss his co-anchor Alan Colmes, his show has blown up since he went solo. Like Maddow he has even recently been beating O’Reilly in the younger demo. Hannity will rule this time slot for the foreseeable future.
So as you see in an hourly basis, Fox News truly does dominate in the early morning and throughout the evening. CNN typically beats MSNBC until the prime time hours. It should be noted that MSNBC finally went to HD about a month back. It could bring in more viewers which would improve their numbers, but most cable stations have yet to pick it up.