TV Ratings: Daily Trump Bombshells Stimulate Cable News Competition

With a month to go before the election, the entire landscape benefits from near-constant revelations and accusations.
Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images
Though this election is likely taking years off of their staffers' lives, the cable news networks at least have the consolation of incredible ratings. 
 
The past few weeks, anchored by boffo performances during the first two presidential debates, have also offered a break from the typical rankings among the big three networks. CNN, for example, has enjoyed two full weeks at No. 1 in the key demo of adults 25-54 since Sept. 26. And, as accusations of sexual misconduct poured in against Donald Trump on Wednesday night, all three were quite evenly matched in the demo —  with Fox News Channel averaging 634,000 to MSNBC's 619,000 and CNN's 522,000. 
 
CNN pulling such tight demo ratings with Fox News during this drawn out election cycle is nothing new. The network has won six of the last 12 months in primetime. But MSNBC's rally, which has been pretty consistent since this past summer's conventions, was not a reality a year ago. 
 
At the end of the recent third quarter, which ended in September, MSNBC did grow by the highest percentages — up 112 percent in the key demographic from the same time last year and narrowly beating out CNN among total viewers.  
 
FNC continues to pull the largest audience. In fact, it finished the third quarter with its most-watched total day haul in network history.  
 
But October is already proving to be a month of intense fluctuation — a trend that won't likely slow as the Nov. 8 election draws near. Wednesday is an interesting case study. The networks, which relied heavily on coverage of late-breaking revelations in the New York Times, were default viewing for a substantial portion of the TV audience. 
 
An average 7.3 million U.S. viewers were tuned to cable news during the three-hour stretch of primetime. That's more than the nightly audience of three of the five broadcast networks and all but four of the night's top telecasts (Empire, Survivor, Criminal Minds, Modern Family).

The ratings reliance on breaking news also offers an interesting juxtaposition to a year (or even six months) ago, when booking candidates was all that anyone seemed to care about. Hillary Clinton remains press shy and Donald Trump, once omnipresent, has even been absent from go-to Hannity of late. Even though their appearance during final debate on Oct. 19 will set the bar high for any coverage prior to the big night, neither are needed at this point to draw a crowd.
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