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Fox News Tops All of Cable Viewership for Quarter; CNN Up Triple-Digits in Primetime

As the presidential primary races heated up, cable news networks scored some big ratings achievements this winter, highlighted by Fox News Channel’s first-ever quarterly total-viewer victory among all cable networks and CNN’s most-watched quarter in seven years. All three cable news networks saw nice spikes, but CNN’s were by far the largest, as the network — buoyed by more debates and town hall events than its rivals —  closed the demo gap with Fox News and pulled away from MSNBC.

The first quarter of 2016 was highlighted by surprisingly strong performances in primary races by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the former the Republican front-runner and the latter giving Hillary Clinton a tougher battle than expected on the Democratic side. Both are credited with bringing millions of new voters to this primary season, and some of that heightened interest in the races has clearly resulted in higher ratings across the cable news board.

Fox News Channel, which aired the quarter’s top-rated debate on March 3 (16.83 million, including 5.45 million adults 25-54) and the most-watched primary night in cable news history (5 million viewers on March 15), had its highest-rated quarter in primetime since 2012 in both the demo (483,000) and total viewers (2.373 million), according to Nielsen’s “live plus same-day” averages for Dec. 28, 2015-March 27, 2016. It also led all cable networks in total viewers for the first time, with its “most current” average (2.40 million) well ahead of ESPN (2.08 million), USA (1.82 million) and others.

On a total-day basis, the network rose to No. 1 in total viewers (1.36 million) for the first time, rising 27% to its highest average in the network’s nearly 20-year history. It was followed in “most current” averages by Nickelodeon (1.27 million), Disney (1.11 million), Adult Swim (1.08 million) and HGTV (986,000).

Among series highlights, Fox News Channel claimed nine of the top 10 programs in adults 25-54 and top 14 programs in total viewers. “The O’Reilly Factor” continued as the No. 1 program in cable news and earned its highest-rated quarter in both total viewers (3.42 million) and adults 25-54 (598,000). “The Kelly File” had its most-watched quarter since its 2013 launch (2.52 million). And “Hannity” was up the most among the network’s programs, rising 35% in total viewers (to 1.88 million) and 39% in the demo (to 434,000) for its top-rated quarter since the new primetime lineup launched in 2013.

Also, “Fox & Friends,” with new co-host Ainsley Earhardt, had its most-watched quarter in more than two years (since the fall of 2013), while Sunday morning program “Media Buzz” had its top-rated quarter to date in both total viewers (1.26 million) and adults 25-54 (256,000). And at 6 p.m. ET weekday program “Special Report with Bret Baier” achieved its highest-rated quarter in the demo in nearly four years with 387,000 (since the fall of 2012) and its second most-watched quarter ever in total viewers (2.36 million).

CNN was celebrating a No. 2 finish across every daypart, delivering its most-watched quarter in total day in seven years (732,000) and its best primetime quarter since the fall of 2008 in both total viewers (1.42 million) and the demo (455,000), according to Nielsen’s “live plus same-day” averages.  Among the top 70 cable networks in primetime, it saw the biggest year-over-year increases — up 162% in total viewers and +139% in adults 25-54.

Relative to the competition, CNN pulled to its closest finish to Fox News in at least seven years in all categories and dayparts (including within about 30,000 adults 25-54 in primetime) and posted its biggest quarterly total-viewer advantage over MSNBC in primetime in eight years. CNN has now topped MSNBC in total-day for eight straight quarters (both total viewers and the demo), and in primetime it has beaten MSNBC for seven straight quarters in total viewers and eight straight in adults 25-54.

“Anderson Cooper 360” had its best total viewer and adults 25-54 demo delivery in more than seven years (since the fall of 2008). It ranked No. 2 in cable news for the 9 p.m. hour, up vs. last year by 83% in total viewers (to 1.1 million viewers) and 60% in adults 25-54 (to 334,000). Also up more than 50% in both categories was 10 p.m.’s “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon,” which beat MSNBC in the demo (260,000 vs. 209,000) for an eighth straight quarter.

The network continues to rise on Sundays, placing No. 2 in the morning with “Inside Politics with John King” (703,000 total viewers, including 198,000 adults 25-54), “State of the Union with Jake Tapper” (792,000 total viewers, including 225,000 adults 25-54), “Fareed Zakaria GPS” (855,000 viewers, including 223,000 adults 25-54) and “Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter” (809,000 total viewers, including 215,000 adults 25-54). And the series premiere of primetime docuseries “Race for the White House” in February became the most-watched CNN Original Series telecast ever in total viewers and key demos.

The best results of the quarter for MSNBC came in the morning race. “Morning Joe” spiked 84% over the first quarter of 2015 in adults 25-54 for its best delivery in the demo in three years, beating CNN in this category (151,000 vs. 137,000) as well as total viewers (585,000 vs. 460,000) even though CNN’s “New Day” had its highest-rated quarter to date.

Among other programs, MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow” edged out CNN’s regular programming in the weekday 9 p.m. hour among adults 25-54 (279,000 vs. 277,000) and also topped it in total viewers (1.166 million vs. 877,000). “Hardball With Chris Matthews” (937,000) and “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (951,000) also topped regular CNN programming in total viewers, though not the demo. And “All In with Chris Hayes” was up 78% in the demo and 49% in total viewers for the quarter.

At the business networks, CNBC led Fox Business, but the gap was narrowed in total viewers during Business Day (208,000 vs. 133,000). Also, FBN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” scored its first ever quarterly win over CNBC in total viewers.

(Most current for Dec. 28, 2015-March 27, 2016)

Adults 25-54 ……. 2016 ………. 2015 ……… Difference
Fox News ………. 491,000 ….. 330,000 …….. +49%
CNN …………….  462,000 ….. 193,000 …….. +139%
MSNBC …………  231,000 ….. 137,000 ……… +69%

Total Viewers …… 2016 ……… 2015 ………… Difference
Fox News ……….. 2.400m …. 1.754m ………….. +37%
CNN ………………. 1.435m …..  548k …………. +162%
MSNBC …………..   902k …….  547k …………… +65%

(Most current for Dec. 28, 2015-March 27, 2016)

Adults 25-54 ……. 2016 ………. 2015 ……… Difference
Fox News ………. 273,000 ….. 211,000 …….. +29%
CNN …………….  219,000 ….. 148,000 …….. +139%
MSNBC …………  133,000 …… 86,000 ……… +55%

Total Viewers …… 2016 ……… 2015 ………… Difference
Fox News ……….. 1.357m …. 1.072m ………….. +27%
CNN ………………   735k …….  469k ………….. +57%
MSNBC …………..   506k …….  318k ………… +59%

Source: Nielsen

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