Cable News Sets Ratings Records in April

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all post big year-to-year increases in a month dominated by coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
UTA; Getty Images; NBC
From left: Fox News' Bret Baier, CNN's Chris Cuomo, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow

April was a huge month for cable news, with all three major channels posting big increases over the same time a year ago. Fox News and MSNBC each set all-time records, and CNN had its highest-rated month in more than a decade.

The three big cable news networks owned the top spots across all of cable for the month both in primetime and the total day: Fox News ranked first in both measures, averaging 3.68 million viewers in primetime — its best month ever — and 2.24 million for the whole day, per Nielsen same-day figures. MSNBC (2.04 million) ranked second in primetime, just ahead of CNN's 1.95 million. The two switched places in total-day rankings, with CNN at 1.36 million and MSNBC at 1.28 million.

The latter marks MSNBC's best showing ever in the total-day ratings. Several of the channel's daytime shows hit highs in April, including MSNBC Live With Stephanie Ruhle (1.4 million viewers), Andrea Mitchell Reports (1.6 million) and Deadline: White House (2.3 million).

Special Report With Bret Baier averaged 5.26 million viewers for the month on Fox News, leading all of cable news by a sizable margin. The Five (4.69 million) finished second; both shows frequently overlapped with the highly watched daily White House pandemic briefings.

In the key news demographic of adults 25-54, Fox News averaged 671,000 viewers in primetime and 448,000 for the full day. CNN came in second with 580,000 in the demo for primetime and 395,000 for the whole day. MSNBC trailed with 336,000 adults 25-54 in primetime and 216,000 for the whole day.

CNN more than doubled its audience vs. April 2019 (albeit starting from a much smaller point than its competitors), rising by 150 percent in total viewers in both primetime and total day. Among adults 25-54, it grew by 180 percent for the full day and by 193 percent in primetime, scoring its best month in the demo since September 2005 and pulling essentially even with MSNBC in total viewers after being well behind a year ago.

Fox News grew its total audience by 54 percent vs. April 2019 in primetime and by 66 percent in total day and was up 72 percent and 84 percent, respectively, in adults 25-54. MSNBC's gains were smaller but still sizable: In viewers, it was up 23 percent in primetime and 40 percent for the whole day, and its demo numbers rose by 32 percent in primetime and 54 percent for the full day.