For four days, Fox News’ primetime lineup has seen distinct rises in the average number of viewers tuning in, while rivals MSNBC and CNN have seen drops. The dynamic emerges after U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivered a summary to Congress saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller had determined no efforts of collusion took place between the campaign to elect Donald Trump U.S. President and Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election.
The ratings have even become a talking point on Fox News, where Hannity last night poked rivals including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Don Lemon, railing against other broadcasters’ “tin-foil conspiracy theories” and pointing to “dramatic ratings decline” at his competitors.
To be sure, TV-news ratings tend to fluctuate and big moments of national import can goose viewership at any or all of the major U.S. outlets. And in these days of polarizing political battles, news that shines a positive light on red-state or blue-state heroes and causes tends to drive people in those categories to watch more avidly. But even though Fox News Channel remains the nation’s most-watched cable-news outlet, the recent surge at Fox News is out of the ordinary, because it is bringing viewership levels to highs that the primetime hosts don’t regularly obtain.
On Wednesday night, for example, Hannity’s 9 p.m. program drew an average of more than 4.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen. His show drew an average of nearly 3.17 million people in February and an average of 3.04 million in January. Tucker Carlson’s 8 p.m. show garnered an average of nearly 3.49 million people Wednesday night, compared with an average of 3.09 million in February and 2.81 million in January.
The surge takes place as Hannity has been locked in a numbers battle with his 9 p.m. rival at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow.
In January, Maddow had the biggest audience in primetime cable news, nabbing nearly 3.29 million to Hannity’s 3.04 million, and 606,000 viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic most favored by news-programming advertisers – compared with Hannity’s 538,000. But in February, Hannity’s show proved triumphant, notching nearly 3.17 million to Maddow’s nearly 3.07 million, and 575,000 viewers between 25 and 54 to Maddow’s 549,000.
The only sure thing about TV ratings is they change every day. “Anyone who doesn’t work in cable news or gets paid to cover cable news who looks at cable news ratings should be institutionalized,” noted MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes in a Twitter post Thursday.
For the moment, however – and maybe longer – Fox News is enjoying a distinct advantage over its competitors.