The Cable News Wars of 2017 continue to rage on, with the Fox News Channel and MSNBC fighting it out for first place in prime time. When the ratings for the month of November came out at the end of the month, MSNBC appeared to be fine tuning – some might say fudging or even faking – the official numbers to try and claim a victory when they actually came in second to FNC in a critical metric.
In the latest ratings, the key prime time battleground was the 9 P.M. E.T. hour. Starting last spring, Rachel Maddow took MSNBC to first place in that time slot for the first time in 15 years. In the wake of FNC putting the weak show The Five on at 9 P.M. on May 1 (after Bill O’Reilly was fired less than two weeks earlier and the whole FNC prime time schedule had to be adjusted), that time slot was suddenly up for grabs.
Last September 25, FNC started introducing its new prime time schedule, returning The Five back to 5 P.M. and moving the channel’s #1 show, Hannity, back an hour to 9. In its first week at 9 P.M., Hannity immediately registered a strong first place showing.
One month later, Rachel Maddow was occasionally beating Hannity and FNC in the preferred demo – viewers between the ages of 25-54 who advertisers prefer because they think people 25-54 are more susceptible to purchasing the kinds of products and services that are advertised on television.
Coverage of the last month’s cable news ratings published on November 29 caught my eye. For example, Mark Joella wrote at Forbes:
Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity held onto his crown as King of Cable News, beating everyone in the November ratings period with an average audience of 3.2 million viewers, making Hannity the most-watched cable news show for the second straight month.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who led her network to record ratings in the third quarter, finished November in third place overall, with a total audience of 2.8 million viewers. Among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults 25-54, Maddow finished in second place, with 634,000 viewers.
So, what then are we to make of another – completely different – analysis of the November cable news ratings? “Rachel Maddow Is #1 In The Demo Again As Fox News’ Hannity Gamble Shows Signs Of Slipping,” also published on November 29, but this time at Politicususa:
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is the top-rated show with viewers age 25-54 as the same older viewers who have always watched Hannity are the only thing keeping Fox News afloat.
While Hannity and Maddow are engaged in a battle for the lead in total viewers, it is the prized age 25-54 demo where MSNBC’s Maddow has a clear lead.
According to numbers sent to PoliticusUSA by MSNBC, “’The Rachel Maddow Show’ reclaimed the #1 title in the coveted A25-54 demographic across all of cable news as well as for the 9pm time period (including all specials) [emphasis added] for the month of November, according to Nielsen.”
Indeed, that is what the NBCUniversal news release, crowing about its channel MSNBC, also dated November 29, said. A close look at the release, however, reveals the critically important caveat “including all specials.” In order to claim #1 status in the demo for the Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC had to include other “special” programs not hosted by Maddow that aired in Maddow’s 9 P.M. time slot during the month of November! The inclusion of Maddow-free programs, on nights when Sean Hannity was hosting his program at FNC, is obviously an unfair comparison. It does not accurately measure the performance of Maddow vs. Hannity during the entire month.
This fact was taken note of by the reliably fair and obective A.J. Katz, analyzing the ratings on November 29 at TVNewser:
Sean Hannity [emphasis original] had the No. 1 show in cable news in total audience, and the second-most-watched show on all of cable for November, only ESPN’s behind Monday Night Football.
Hannity was also No. 1 in the key A25-54 demo for the month if one excludes special programming (639,000 vs. 634,000 for Rachel Maddow). But if one includes special programming, Hannity is No. 2 in the demo behind Maddow.
So, there it is: an unbiased analysis of the cable news ratings. No one else, other than Katz, seems to have taken any note of NBCUniversal’s fancy footwork with the monthly Nielsen ratings report.
Should we be surprised that MSNBC, a notorious fake news channel, fudges the ratings? What else is new? CNN, another fake news outlet, tried the same thing last summer, as I reported at American Thinker on August 26:
On Monday [August 21], MSNBC and FNC described their programming from 9:01 to 9:27 P.M. E.D.T. (or 9 to 9:30 P.M. in the case of MSNBC) as “Pres Address-Afghanistan” (FNC) and “MSNBC Special Coverage” (MSNBC), instead of The Five and The Rachel Maddow Show that normally air at 9 P.M. CNN, however, told Nielsen it was airing “Anderson Cooper 360,” even though, as with the other channels, President Trump was on CNN during that entire time. This means, in effect, that the ratings surge provided to CNN during that half hour by viewers tuning in to see President Donald J. Trump – ironically CNN’s nemesis – will be attributed to the lagging Anderson Cooper program!
Back to the present, the latest weekly ratings that came out on December 5th were analyzed by Fox News in a press release:
According to Nielsen Media Research, FOX News Channel (FNC) topped all of basic cable in primetime and total day with P2+, averaging 2.5 million and 1.5 million total viewers, respectively. Additionally, last week, FNC crushed the cable news competition in primetime and total day with both total viewers and the A25-54 demo, with Hannity leading the way as the most-watched program in cable news in both categories (3,228,000 P2+; 628,000 A25-54). Additionally, Hannity’s telecast on Wednesday 11/29 ranked #5 for the week in all of basic cable, only behind football, The Walking Dead and Hallmark’s original Christmas movie. Overall, FNC programs made up 10 of the top 20 programs in all of cable, including various presentations of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity and The Ingraham Angle.
Fox News’s sister cable channel, the Fox Business Network, also had good news to report:
FOX Business Network (FBN) continued its winning streak over CNBC, crushing the network in Business Day viewers for the 26th consecutive week, according to Nielsen Media Research. During the historic financial news week of November 27th-December 1st, FBN’s Business Day coverage saw a 27 percent advantage over rival CNBC with 241,000 total viewers compared to CNBC’s 190,000.
As the Dow passed the momentous 24,000 mark on Thursday, November 30th, FBN’s Business Day coverage swept CNBC across the board. Averaging 269,000 total viewers, FBN’s Business Day delivered a 35 percent advantage over rival CNBC (200,000) and a 7 percent win in the A25-54 demo with 32,000 viewers compared to CNBC’s 30,000.
Additionally, FBN also dominated CNBC as the markets reacted to the breaking news surrounding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Friday, December 1st, when the markets plunged over 300 points before steading to close down 41 points, FBN recorded 278,000 Business Day viewers to CNBC’s 210,000. Furthermore, FBN also outpaced CNBC in the demo with 41,000 viewers to 36,000.
Battles in the cable news war of attrition aren’t close to being over, so stay tuned for developments.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. Peter’s latest video interview on The Hagmann Report on Dec. 1, 2017 can be watched here. Follow Peter on Twitter @pchowka.