Sean Hannity on Monday night threw down the proverbial gauntlet with his 9 o'clock move on Fox News Channel.
The conservative commentator, who has been relegated to No. 2 status of late at 10 p.m., won the battle for both total viewers and key news demo during first night out. That means Hannity outperformed MSNBC's formidable progressive Rachel Maddow in their first head-to-head match. The Rachel Maddow Show trailed Hannity by 610,000 viewers and a modest 75,000 adults 25-54, with Hannity averaging a robust 3.27 million viewers and a demo audience of 666,000 (spooky!).
The new battle, the result of the latest of many FNC scheduling changes over the last year, comes at the end of a quarter that made Maddow the undisputed queen of cable news. Though competitor FNC won the three-month span in primetime and total day, her MSNBC hour bested Hannity among total viewers with an average 2.72 million to his 2.54 million and among adults 25-54 with 606,000 to his 533,000.
The race to No. 1 will be especially interesting during the last three months of the year, now that the shows are airing simultaneously — and Hannity has the advantage of more U.S. TVs turned on during his new time period.
Looking across the landscape, much of the three main cable networks growth over 2016 have slowed or even disappeared. In primetime, MSNBC is the only network to see year-over-year improvement in the third quarter, lifting viewership by 43 percent and seeing a 29 percent spike in the demo. Total day shows a more balanced picture. Though MSNBC's growth is mirrored almost exactly, FNC had modest audience growth and both FNC and CNN were up in the demo.