Rachel Maddow, MSNBC's #1 show host

Negative news about President Trump equals good news for MSNBC and CNN.

The cable news ratings for the first week of 2018 (M-F) are in, and MSNBC beat competitors Fox News and CNN in the critical 25-54 demographic. Since Monday January 1 was a holiday, regular cable news channel programming resumed on Tuesday January 2. From Tuesday through Friday, MSNBC won three of the four weekday nights in the demo, although Fox News took three nights in the number of total viewers. For reasons that irk some observers, advertisers consider the age 25-54 “demo” metric to be the more critical one.

Interestingly, Fox News won both the demo and total viewers in prime time on opening night, Tuesday. After that, it lost the next three nights in the demo and Wednesday night in total viewers. On Wednesday morning (ET), the blockbuster story about Michael Wolff’s controversial book, Fire and Fury, that takes aim at the Trump administration and President Trump in particular, first broke. When news that is unfavorable to President Trump leads, one theory holds that ratings of the anti-Trump Resistance channels, MSNBC and CNN, go up as more people who oppose Trump are attracted to watch the left-leaning channels. (As one observer commented, it’s like a moth being drawn to a flame.) The ratings picture in the first week of January appears to add weight to that analysis.

On Wednesday, the audience in prime time for all three of the major cable news channels grew – it was almost one million more than Tuesday before the news of the Wolff book went to the top of the news cycle. The total number of viewers on the three channels expanded again: there were 360,000 more viewers in prime time on Thursday than Wednesday as the story of Wolff’s book, which shot to #1 on Amazon, continued to command attention.

CABLE TV NEWS RATINGS January 2-5, 2018 (source: Nielsen Research via TVNewser)

1.0 = 1,000 viewers

examples: 516 = 516,000 viewers, 2,783 = 2,783,000 viewers

Tu Jan 2 FNC wins demo and total viewers

Prime time Demo: FNC: 516 | CNN: 353 | MSNBC: 450

Prime time Total Viewers: FNC: 2,783 | CNN: 910 | MSNBC: 2.043

Wed Jan 3 MSNBC wins demo and total viewers

Prime time Demo: FNC: 525 | CNN: 434 | MSNBC: 605

Prime time Total Viewers: FNC: 2,594 | CNN: 1,143 | MSNBC: 2,679

Thur Jan 4 MSNBC wins demo, FNC wins total viewers

Prime time Demo: FNC: 552 | CNN: 409 | MSNBC: 588

Prime time Total Viewers: FNC: 2,845 | CNN: 1,239 | MSNBC: 2,643

Fri Jan 5 MSNBC wins demo, FNC wins total viewers

Prime time Demo: FNC: 462 | CNN: 321 | MSNBC: 486

Prime time Total Viewers: FNC: 2,558 | CNN: 1,000 | MSNBC: 2,245

On the cover of Rolling Stone, June 2017

Meanwhile last week, the ground zero battleground for cable news, the hour between 9 and 10 PM ET, saw Rachel Maddow of MSNBC beat Sean Hannity on Fox News in both the demo and total viewers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights (on Friday last week, Hannity’s show was a “special”). Maddow’s show, which came in second or third to Fox News for years, suddenly began a winning streak in the spring of 2017, at least in the 25-54 demo, when the Resist Trump movement started to take off and Trump’s enemies found a home at MSNBC which became the 24/7 Resist Trump channel. Fox News’s ratings-dominant prime time schedule was also upset early in 2017 with the departure of hosts Megyn Kelly and the firing of Bill O’Reilly. It finally rebooted this past fall when Laura Ingraham’s show was added to prime time.

Two years ago, on January 5, 2016, the cable news ratings picture was radically different from today. It was the first Tuesday night of the new year, and Fox News won prime time in the demo by more than two to one over MSNBC which was in last place behind CNN. Incredibly, CNN and MSNBC together had only 11,000 more viewers than Fox News in the prime-time demo. In the measurement of total viewers that night, Fox News had 50% more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

If the theory above holds water, that bad news for Trump = good news for MSNBC and CNN and not so good tidings for FNC, it will be interesting to see what happens later this year. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and administration for alleged collusion with the Russians shows no signs of ending anytime soon — and before it does, it is expected to result in more indictments of people close to Trump or maybe even the presentation of evidence against the president himself. There is also the growing meme, reinforced by the content of Wolff’s book, that Trump is not mentally or psychologically fit to be president. This questionable proposition has recently gained increasing amounts of airtime in the mainstream media and momentum among the MSM’s predominantly never-Trump commentariat.


Another nugget of information from Nielsen Research helps to explain the rise in MSNBC’s ratings in 2017. As A.J. Katz reported at TVNewser on January 8:

In 2017, MSNBC was the most-watched cable network among African-Americans in weekday prime time.

Per Nielsen, the network averaged 483,096 African-American viewers across its weekday prime time programming of All In With Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell.

Fox News was not on the list of the top ten cable channels most watched by African-Americans. In 2017, MSNBC’s ratings among African-American viewers were 50% higher than in 2016. In 2015, the channel had an average of only157,832 African-American viewers in weekday prime time compared with 483,096 in 2017.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. On January 4, Peter was invited to appear as a commentator on the BBC’s international television news program Trending. For announcements and links to a wide selection of Peter’s published work, follow him on Twitter @pchowka.

Peter is an author, journalist, media analyst and commentator on a wide range of issues including national politics, health care, media and popular culture. He has over four decades of experience reporting for a variety of publications and media. During the past year, Peter has written over 115 articles for American Thinker and his work has also appeared in several other major publications.