MSNBC Ratings Surge, but Fox News Narrowly Wins a Contentious May

Rachel Maddow Interview - H 2015
Courtesy of MSNBC/Charles Ommanney/ Reportage by Getty Images

Driven by Rachel Maddow and co., MSNBC scores a coup in winning weeknights for the month — a first in 17 years.

The tide may currently be in MSNBC's favor, but Fox News Channel still eked out a monthly primetime ratings win.

With May now over, by Nielsen standards at least, FNC finished with an average 453,000 adults 25-54. That's 9 percent ahead of MSNBC, which scored several key victories including one very big one: It ranked No. 1 on weeknights.

A first in nearly 17 years, MSNBC's Monday-to-Friday performance bested those of both FNC and CNN, averaging 532,000 adults 25-54. That's nearly 2 percent more than FNC's 524,000 and a ways ahead of CNN's 455,000. By any previous standards, this is an exceptionally narrow race between all three networks.

All MSNBC programs were lifted, but Rachel Maddow's topped all of cable news. Not only did it outrate every other program among adults 25-54, The Rachel Maddow Show scored an unprecedented victory among total viewers. For the first time in MSNBC history, the network had the 9 o'clock hour's biggest audience — an average 2.6 million viewers. (Maddow's win coincides with the first full month of FNC's The Five, the third show to air in the time slot this year after Megyn Kelly's exit and Tucker Carlson's move to 8 p.m.)

May has been a seesaw of a month for the cable news networks. It started with Fox News on top, but the network ultimately logged a rare five-day stretch at No. 3 during breaking news around the firing of FBI director James Comey and the agency's Russian inquiry. All three news nets remain up significantly from a year ago, with MSNBC obviously pacing with the most growth — more than double its showing from May 2016.

The Rachel Maddow Show was not the only MSNBC program in the top five. FNC's Tucker Carlson Tonight, which won in total viewers during its first full month in Bill O'Reilly's old 8 p.m. roost, paced No. 2, with Hannity and The Five following MSNBC's The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell.

Expect the battleground to become even more heated in June. With no shortage of developments out of the Trump administration and the recent series of attacks around the globe, the three networks should continue to outdraw their already formidable 2016 showings.

May Primetime

FNC: 2.24 million viewers (up 11 percent); 453,000 adults 25-54 (up 23 percent)
MSNBC: 1.69 million viewers (up 105 percent); 417,000 adults 25-54 (up 101 percent)
CNN: 1.12 million viewers (up 26 percent); 399,000 adults 25-54 – (up 39 percent)

May Total Day 
FNC: 1.43 million viewers ( up 22 percent); 302,000 adults 25-54 (up 40 percent)
CNN: 821,000 viewers (up 41 percent); 274,000 adults 25-54 (up 59 percent)
MSNBC: 925,000 viewers (up 93 percent); 221,000 adults 25-54 (up 78 percent)