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Cable News Ratings: CNN on the Rise in 2015; Fox News Channel Remains Dominant

As 2015 comes to a close, CNN and Fox News Channel are celebrating ratings successes in a year that saw overall interest in cable news thanks in large part to the presidential primary debates and the ubiquitous presence of Donald Trump. MSNBC was unable to join the celebration as it was down double-digits in the key news demo to fall deep into third place.

Fox News, with a dominant primetime lineup and host to the most-watched presidential primary debate on record, remained the No. 1 ratings player in cable news and finished second overall to ESPN in primetime total viewership — the highest-ever finish for any cable news network. CNN, meanwhile, racked up strong debate numbers of its own — it aired three overall — to deliver the largest gains of any news network and end 2015 with its most competitive finishes in years.

Looking at Nielsen’s most current estimates for the Dec. 29, 2014-Dec. 27, 2015 ratings year, Fox News Channel easily led among the cable news networks in the key adults 25-54 demo during primetime. Its average audience of 349,000 viewers in the demo was up 13% vs. 2014, and was followed  by CNN with 243,000 (up 30%), MSNBC with 143,000 (down 18%) and HLN with 114,000 (down 3%).

In total viewers for primetime, Fox News Channel (1.829 million, up 3% vs. last year) again outdrew its rivals combined. CNN, which spiked 38% vs. last year, finished second with 730,000 viewers — leapfrogging MSNBC, whose 596,000 viewers was down 1% year over year.

On a total-day basis, Fox News Channel led with 209,000 viewers in the adults 25-54 demo, down 3% from last year. CNN grew by 19% to 151,000, and was followed by another riser, HLN (122,000, up 15%). MSNBC fell to just 91,000 viewers in the demo, a decline of 17% vs. last year.

CNN benefited most from the primary debates, airing two Republican get-togethers (23.1 million in September and 18.2 million in December) and a Democratic event that drew surprisingly well itself (15.8 million in October). They helped make CNN the biggest gainer of 2015 among the top 40 primetime cable networks in the adults 25-54 demo (up 30%) and gave the network its highest yearly averages in both total viewers and the demo in six years.

But the Turner network was healthier in dayparts beyond primetime in 2015, including its weekday morning show “New Day,” which finished ahead of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for a second straight year in adults 25-54 (114,000 vs. 93,000) for its biggest advantage in seven years. “New Day” also increased its share in the daypart, as two of its rivals (“Morning Joe” and “Fox & Friends”) were on the decline.

Early-evening program “The Lead with Jake Tapper” ranked second in cable news, rising about 20% vs. last year in both the demo (151,000) and total viewers (600,000), while primetime was paced by “Anderson Cooper 360,” which spiked 18% in the demo (to 225,000) and 25% in total viewers (to 719,000) — finishing ahead of MSNBC in the demo for the 9 o’clock hour (primarily “Rachel Maddow”) for a third straight year. And Sunday programs “Fareed Zakaria GPS” (614,000 viewers, including 157,000 adults 25-54), “Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter” (522,000 viewers, including 133,000 adults 25-54) and “State of the Union with Jake Tapper” (518,000 viewers, including 134,000 adults 25-54) were all up in the demo.

Overall, CNN had its biggest ratings advantage over MSNBC in 10 years. This was also the first time in seven years that CNN finishes No. 2 across the three primary news dayparts (total day, primetime and Monday-Friday primetime).

Fox News Channel aired eight of the top 10 cable news series in adults 25-54 and the top 14 programs in total viewers, led once again by “The O’Reilly Factor.” The Bill O’Reilly-hosted program finishes as the No. 1 program in cable news in the demo (483,000) for a 15th straight year, and No. 1 in total viewers for a 14th straight (2.79 million), according to “live plus same-day” averages from Nielsen.

Other standouts included “The Kelly File,” which spiked 16% year-over-year in adults 25-54 (433,000) and finished No. 1 among cable news programs for three of the year’s 12 months. “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” (1.842 million viewers; 306,000 adults 25-54) and “Hannity” (1.558 million viewers; 342,000 adults 25-54) also were up in the demo, while 6 p.m. ET program “Special Report,” anchored by Bret Baier, delivered the net’s largest average audience in the timeslot (2.077 million) in six years.

The network in 2015 established an all-time viewership high with its coverage of the Republican debate from Cleveland in August. Its 24 million viewers marked a cable record for a non-sports telecast and contributed to the network’s No. 2 cable finish overall — its highest-ever finish.

On the social media front, Fox News was the No. 1 brand on Facebook for engagement, capturing 206 million likes, shares and comments during 2015, according to analytics firm Shareablee. Additionally, FNC finished as the the top brand on Twitter (8 million actions), Instagram (3 million actions) as well as Facebook in engagement among all television news outlets.

HLN ends the year as the No. 2 biggest gainer in adults 25-54 (up 15%) among the top 40 cable networks — behind only sister network CNN. In total day, it beat MSNBC in the demo for a 19th straight month in December, meaning it has outperformed the NBC network for a full year for the first time since 1999.

The network continues to be especially strong in the a.m. with “Morning Express With Robin Meade,” which ranked as the No. 2 cable news morning news show in 2015 — behind only “Fox and Friends” — among adults 25-54 (128,000).  It was up 23% in the demo (128,000 vs. 104,000) and 27% in total viewers (284,000 vs. 223,000) vs. last year.

Fox Business Network, meanwhile, had its highest-rated year ever in 2015, averaging 66,000 total-day viewers. The network, boosted in part by its own record-breaking Republican primary debate (13.5 million viewers in Novmber), also had a strong second-year for original series “Strange Inheritance” (140,000 total viewers, including 26,000 adults 25-54). And during market hours, “Varney & Co.” and “Cavuto: Coast to Coast” saw double-digit gains, while network newcomer Trish Regan more than doubled viewership at 2 p.m. ET for “The Intelligence Report.” Overall, the 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekday averages for FBN (101,000 total viewers, including 16,000 adults 25-54) were all-time bests.

NETWORK RANKINGS
(Most current for 12-29-14 through 12-27-15)

Primetime

Adults 25-54 Viewers ………….  Vs. Last Year
FNC ………………  349,000 …….. Up 13%
CNN ………………. 243,000 …….. Up 30%
MSNBC ………….. 143,000 ……..  Down 18%
HLN ………………. 114,000 ……..  Down 3%

Total Viewers 2+ …………………  Vs. Last Year
FNC …………….. 1,829,000 ………  Up 3%
CNN ……………..   730,000 ……….  Up 38%
MSNBC ………….  596,000 ……….  Down 1%
HLN ………………  322,000 ……….  Down 5%

Total Day

Adults 25-54 Viewers ………….  Vs. Last Year
FNC ………………  209,000 …….. Down 3%
CNN ………………. 151,000 …….. Up 19%
HLN ………………. 122,000 ……..  Up 15%
MSNBC …………..   91,000 ……..  Down 17%

Total Viewers 2+ …………………  Vs. Last Year
FNC …………….. 1,089,000 ………  Up 3%
CNN ……………..   493,000 ……….  Up 23%
MSNBC ………….  356,000 ……….  Up 2%
HLN ………………  285,000 ……….  Up 10%

Monday-Friday Primetime

Adults 25-54 Viewers ………….  Vs. Last Year
FNC ………………  429,000 …….. Up 14%
CNN ………………. 270,000 …….. Up 39%
MSNBC ………….. 145,000 ……..  Down 17%
HLN ………………. 106,000 ……..  Down 4%

Total Viewers 2+ …………………  Vs. Last Year
FNC …………….. 2,224,000 ………  Up 5%
CNN ……………..   810,000 ……….  Up 46%
MSNBC ………….  703,000 ……….  Up 1%
HLN ………………  298,000 ……….  Down 4%

Source: Nielsen

 

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