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Cable News Ratings: MSNBC Tumbles, While Fox, CNN and HLN All Rise

MSNBC took in on the chin during the first quarter of 2015, shedding big chunks of its audience while Fox News, CNN and Headline News all took advantage and gained ground.

Fox News remained the dominant news network, especially in primetime, while CNN solidified its standing as the No. 2 newsie and made some demo gains on a total-day basis.

According to Nielsen “most current” estimates for the Dec. 29, 2014-March 29, 2015 quarter, Fox News cruised to a primetime victory in the key news demo of adults 25-54. It averaged 328,000 viewers nightly (up 9% vs. a year ago) and was followed by CNN (192,000, up 11%), MSNBC (136,000, down 40%) and HLN (130,000, up 11%).

CNN has now beaten MSNBC in primetime for four consecutive quarters. And for MSNBC, whose “Rachel Maddow Show” and “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” had their worst showing on record, this is its lowest-rated quarter since Q2 in 2006.

Fox News was again especially dominant on weeknights, where its average audience of 409,000 adults 25-54 was larger than CNN (207,000) and MSNBC (131,000) combined.

The controversy over host Bill O’Reilly’s war reporting from the Falkland Islands in the ’80s seemed to provide a boost to “The O’Reilly Factor,” which had its highest-rated quarter in the demo since Q4 2012 (509,000) and its largest overall audience (2.84 million) since Q2 2013; it has been the cable news leader for 60 consecutive quarters. Lead-out “The Kelly File” also had a strong quarter, up 20% vs. a year ago in 25-54 (413,000) and standing as the No. 2 cable news program in the demo.

FNC actually had the top five programs in 25-54, with “O’Reilly” and “Kelly” followed by “The Five” (338,000), “Special Report with Bret Baier” (333,000) and “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” (315,000).

Its “Fox & Friends” continues to dominate among the cable news networks in the morning, and has now been on top for 14 consecutive years. The program has been out-rating “CBS This Morning” on the Eye stations in Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa and Cleveland for years as well.

“Anderson Cooper 360” was CNN’s top program for the quarter with 209,000 adults 25-54 (up 14%) and 619,000 total viewers (up 11%), and original series led by “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery” (375,000 adults 25-54 and 1.14 million viewers overall) performed well. The net also saw demo gains outside of primetime, including “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” (up 24% to 589,000), “The Lead with Jake Tapper” (up 27% to 156,000), and “Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter” (up 12% to 151,000).

For the quarter on a total-day basis, Fox News ruled in adults 25-54 with 210,000 (down 8% from last year) while CNN (148,000, up 20%) and HLN (130,000, up 33%) were able to inch closer. MSNBC, on the other hand, tumbled 39% to 86,000.

Similarly in total viewers, Fox News remained on top despite minor declines (1.07 million, down 3%). It averaged about as many viewers as the other networks combined: rising CNN (468,000, up 22%) and HLN (304,000, up 27%) and falling MSNBC (318,000, down 20%).

And among all ad-supported cable networks in both primetime and total-day, Fox News ranked No. 4 in total viewers.

For HLN, this was the fourth straight quarter that it had beaten MSNBC in adults 25-54 on a total-day basis, its longest such stretch in nearly 16 years. And this is its largest lead for any quarter in nearly 17 years.

HLN continues to be led by “Forensic Files,” while its “Morning Express with Robin Meade” ranked as the No. 2 morning show in cable news among adults 25-54 (249,000), rising a big 62% year-over-year.

MSNBC’s bright spot came late in the quarter, as the network’s core programs like “Morning Joe,” “Hardball” and “Rachel Maddow” drew more total viewers than their CNN timeslot competition during March.

 

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