Fox News Posts Record Ratings as Cable News Surges at Top of Election Year

Megyn Kelly GETTY - H 2016
Scott Olson/Getty Images

For the first time in its history, FNC leads all of basic cable for a full quarter, while CNN surges to a seven-year high.

The aggressive battle for election-year eyeballs is reaping year-to-year jumps across cable news and a landmark first quarter for Fox News Channel. With the first three months of 2016 nearly at an end, the network has secured a new feat: most-watched status across basic cable in both primetime and total day for the entire quarter.

That victory, which puts it atop the likes of ESPN, USA and TNT, is probably sweetened by the fact that FNC held off aggressive competition from a surging CNN among adults 25-54 to retain its hold on the key news demo in both dayparts as well.

FNC is not alone in its justifiable desire to celebrate the debate and town-hall heavy start of the year, which will culminate this November in a presidential election. The big three cable news networks were all up significantly from the same period a year ago, with CNN rising the most: an impressive 143 percent in primetime adults 25-54.

Hosting two of the GOP debates during the first quarter and the least amount of town halls, FNC reaped an average primetime haul over the course of the seven-day week of 2.37 million viewers. Of that total audience, an average 483,000 were in the key news demo. The latter stat represents a 50 percent jump from the same period last year. Among individual series, Hannity rose the most.

CNN, which posted its most-watched quarter in seven years, was up the most in primetime. In addition to the previously mentioned demo climb, the network jumped 165 percent among total viewers to an average 1.42 million with its aggressive lineup of political bookings — including two GOP debates and one featuring the Democrats. CNN enjoyed another seven-year feat in narrowing ratings margins between itself and FNC. The Q1 gap is the tightest it's been since 2009.

MSNBC experienced double-digit growth from lows in 2015. In addition to growing across all of total day, where a.m. flagship Morning Joe enjoyed its best quarter on record, the network was up 71 percent in primetime for an average 226,000 adults 25-54. The network was up in total viewers (888,000) by 66 percent.

See below for the full breakdown of averages.

Total Day
1. FNC: 1.351 million viewers (up 27 percent); 271,000 adults 25-54 (up 30 percent)
2. CNN: 732,000 viewers (up 57 percent); 217,000 adults 25-54 (up 48 percent)
3. MSNBC: 502,000 viewers (up 59 percent); 131,000 adults 25-54 (up 54 percent)

Primetime (8-11 p.m.)
1. FNC: 2.373 million viewers (up 38 percent); 483,000 adults 25-54 (up 50 percent)
2. CNN: 1.419 million viewers (up 165 percent); 455,000 adults 25-54 (up 143 percent)
3. MSNBC: 888,000 viewers (up 66 percent); 226,000 adults 25-54 (up 71 percent)