TV Ratings: Fox News Leads Election Night, Cable Heavily Outdraws Broadcast

FOX News
FOX News

The main cable news networks dominated TV coverage of the presidential election, racking up much larger audiences than their broadcast counterparts.

CNN, Fox News and MSNBC combined to average 31.13 million viewers in primetime on election night, a whopping 59 percent more than the 19.57 million who followed coverage on the Big Four broadcast nets — ABC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting and NBC. The three cable channels made up about 62 percent of the audience across the seven largest outlets, per Nielsen.

That's a big change from four years ago, when the broadcast networks and primary cable news channels were much more evenly split: 29.8 million for broadcast and 31.3 million for cable.

Fox News was the clear leader in primetime, averaging 14.09 million viewers from 8-11 p.m. ET. CNN finished second with 9.41 million viewers, followed by MSNBC (7.63 million), ABC (6.29 million), NBC (5.79 million), CBS (4.49 million) and Fox Broadcasting (3 million). Spanish-language broadcasters Univision (1.95 million) and Telemundo (1.53 million) drew just under 3.5 million people in primetime Tuesday. Fox Business drew 662,000 people in primetime and CNBC, 127,000.

The primetime audience for election night is down a good amount from four years ago, even though nationwide voter turnout reached historic highs. The 11 networks listed above combined for 54.91 million viewers; 10 additional outlets (PBS, Estrella, NBCLX, BET, BET Her, CNNe, Newsmax, Newsy, Vice and WGN America) added another 2 million viewers for a total of 56.92 million. That's off by 20 percent from the total primetime audience for election night four years ago — 71.43 million viewers across 13 networks.

Coverage continued well past primetime, up to the end of the Nielsen reporting window at 3 a.m. Figures for the broadcast networks in the wee hours aren't available, but an average of nearly 20 million people watched Fox News (9.63 million), CNN (5.56 million) and MSNBC (4.45 million) between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. ET.

With tens of millions of people glued to news channels, there wasn't a ton of audience left over for two live comedy specials. The Daily Show's election special brought in about 600,000 people across Comedy Central and four other ViacomCBS channels (BET, MTV, MTV2 and VH1). Stephen Colbert's live Showtime special drew 225,000 on-air viewers.

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Nov. 4, 1:45 p.m. Updated throughout with final ratings numbers.