OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Without a doubt, 2023 was a challenging year for the cable news industry — which ended the turbulent year with fewer viewers as alternative news sources gained traction and cord-cutting continued to limit linear reach into American households.
For the eighth year in a row, Fox News remained the most popular cable news network as the year ended. The network’s six news programs dominated the cable news industry, with The Five making history as the first non-prime-time program to top the ratings in the crucial 25–54 age group and overall viewers.
It was Fox’s 22nd consecutive year at the top of cable news in terms of total viewers and the demo in terms of total day and prime-time viewers in 2023, Mediaite noted.
MSNBC maintained its position as the second most-watched cable network, behind Fox, thanks to the success of prime-time hosts like Lawrence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow, and the network was the only one to experience year-over-year growth in total viewers. Thanks to Trump’s heavy news cycles and the former president’s ongoing legal dramas, MSNBC’s Morning Joe and early evening hosts Nicolle Wallace and Ari Melber continue to be major ratings draws for the network.
Despite a leadership change this year, CNN’s ratings have not recovered, and the network had its worst viewership total since 2014, including a record low in the demo, at the end of the year. Still, for the tenth year running overall and for the fourth year running during prime time, CNN outrated MSNBC in the demo; this continues MSNBC’s lengthy losing streak with demo viewers.
Among the three major cable news networks, MSNBC had the oldest audience in the fourth quarter, averaging 70 viewers. However, the network had its worst-rated year in the demo since 1999. CNN has 67 average viewers, up from 60 in 2017, while Fox has 69.
As the cable industry continues to decline, S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates that just 70 million American households have access to Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC as of today, down from 90 million in 2016.
Earlier this year, Fox was in the news for settling a lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems for an astounding $787 million. Shortly after, the network fired Tucker Carlson, the top-rated cable news host. Carlson moved his act to Elon Musk’s X, where he openly supports far-right conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Jesse Watters replaced Carlson at 8 o’clock in July when Fox relaunched its prime-time lineup.
The network’s total viewers fell 18% from 1.49 million to 1.2 million, marking its lowest total viewership since 2015, despite Fox’s continued dominance in the industry. Total day viewers for MSNBC increased to 784,000 from 733,000 in the previous year. Similarly, CNN saw a decline of 15% from 568,000 average viewers in 2022 to 482,000 total day viewers in 2019.
With 87,000 total average viewers, MSNBC increased 5% in the total day demo and landed in third place. Second place went to CNN with 95,000, a 22% decline from the previous year. With 150,000 total average viewers, down 34% from last year, Fox topped the pack.
The Five on Fox topped the ratings with 2.9 million viewers overall and 303,000 in the demo. Jesse Watters came in second with 2.5 million total viewers and 255,000 demo viewers. While Sean Hannity’s total viewership was 2.4 million, his 217,000 demo viewers placed him in second place.
Among cable news programs, only Bret Baier averaged over 2 million viewers for the year; Ingraham remains the most-watched woman on the network, while Bret Baier came in at number four overall. In terms of overall viewers, Greg Gutfeld came in at number six.
Thanks to its coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, its two GOP presidential primary debates, Hannity’s Newsom-DeSantis showdown, and other events, Fox also had a successful year. The war broke out in October, and since then, Fox has grown by double digits in the four largest U.S. markets—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia—among other notable cities. With a 42% increase, Fox surpassed CNN and MSNBC among New York City’s youth demographic.
With Maddow hosting on Mondays and Alex Wagner sharing MSNBC’s 9 o’clock time slot, they finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the overall rankings.
For the year, Maddow drew an average of 2.4 million viewers, which put her in first place on the network and propelled her time slot into the top ten. In that particular order, the shows hosted by Joy Reid, Chris Hayes, Melber, and Wallace of MSNBC all made it into the top 20 for the year.
Anderson Cooper 360, CNN’s most popular program, ranked 29th among cable news programs with an average of 743,000 viewers; Cooper ranked 17th in the demo. Next on CNN’s list of highly rated hosts are Erin Burnett, followed by Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and finally Kaitlin Collins.
NewsNation began airing 24/5 news coverage in May of this year, its audience grew by 37% overall and 71% during prime time.
Even though NewsNation and Newsmax both have significantly smaller audiences than the big three, Newsmax’s prime-time ratings increased by about 22% for the year, thanks in part to Carlson’s dismissal. Even Eric Bolling of Newsmax was able to outdo his CNN rivals on multiple occasions this year.