Fox News Really Wants You to Think Its Ratings Aren’t Down

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Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

If you’ve been on Fox News’ digital news site or bouncing around the right-wing media ecosphere in recent weeks, you’ve no doubt come across an article or three about the recent collapse in viewership at CNN and MSNBC. And the tanking ratings have largely been tied to the “credibility” issues the two networks supposedly have in covering President Joe Biden’s administration following Donald Trump’s exit from the White House.

Lost in all this coverage, however, is one stubborn fact: Fox News has also suffered a precipitous drop in its viewership.

Following a record-setting year in cable news viewership that was spurred by a once-a-century pandemic and a dramatic presidential election—which then climaxed with a one-two punch of Trump inciting an insurrection and Biden’s inauguration—ratings have tumbled across the board as interest in politics has waned.

During the month of January, for instance, CNN enjoyed its most-watched month yet, drawing a daily average of 1.907 million total viewers and a total primetime audience of 2.737 million. At the same time, during that same month, Fox News finished third in cable-news ratings for the first time in 20 years, averaging 1.374 million viewers in total day and 2.621 million in primetime. MSNBC, for its part, was second across the board that month, drawing 1.662 million viewers per day and 2.658 million in primetime.

One noticeable thing, however, about the large audiences that CNN and MSNBC pulled in during that month is the massive growth it experienced from the same time the previous year. Fox News, on the other hand, actually suffered a year-to-year drop in viewership, despite the historic news cycle.

Compared to January 2020, CNN nearly tripled its viewership in the key 25-54 demographic, and more than doubled its total daily viewership and its primetime audience both overall and in the key demographic. MSNBC also saw double-digit year-to-year growth across the board in both total day and primetime viewership.

Newsmax Ratings Are Collapsing—but Insiders Claim Victory

Fox, however, suffered declines throughout, experiencing a 20 percent drop in total day viewership and losing 14 percent in total primetime audience compared to January 2020. Fox News was also down double-digits in the key demographic.

The shocking third-place finish by Fox News in January and the erosion of its audience was largely chalked up to disgruntled Trump supporters who not only felt Fox News wasn’t sufficiently loyal to the soon-to-be ex-president but also blamed the conservative network for Trump’s electoral loss.

The inauguration, though, spelled a high point for CNN and MSNBC. From there, viewers began tuning out—quickly.

Within weeks of Biden taking office, Fox News once again retook its spot as the most-watched cable news channel while its rivals settled back into their familiar also-ran spots. And Fox’s media team didn’t waste any time pointing that out.

Soon enough, Fox’s digital site was littered with articles crowing about how MSNBC’s “ratings suffer without Trump to vilify” and that Joy Reid had her “worst week ever.” A frequent target for ridicule has also been CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter—whom Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson routinely mock for his physical appearance—with several pieces dedicated solely to his show’s plummeting post-inauguration ratings.

After this year’s second-quarter ratings were released this week, Fox’s media division devoted no less than five articles in the span of a single day to CNN’s struggling viewership. Two pieces were merely based around how Trump and a Trump loyalist congresswoman mocked CNN anchor Jake Tapper over a different Fox News article hitting Tapper on his ratings drop.

The centerpiece of this coverage, however, was an analysis piece citing “experts” claiming CNN and MSNBC ratings drops are due to a “serious credibility problem” with viewers. Among the experts for such unscientific media analysis were a conservative law blogger, Fox News contributor Joe Concha, a conservative comedian, and the vice president of a conservative anti-media organization.

Notably, throughout these pieces, little to no mention is made of Fox’s own ratings plummet compared to both January of this year and June and second quarter of last year. But, of course, that did not stop the narrative from dutifully being spread across the right-wing media ecosystem.

While Fox News led June with 1.169 million total daily viewers (Monday-Sunday), they are still down 35 percent compared to June of last year, when they averaged an overall audience of 1.790 million in total day viewership. This is fairly in line with the declines CNN (49 percent) and MSNBC (37 percent) have seen in the same period. Among viewers in the key demographic, Fox News is down 42 percent year-to-year for total day audience, compared to CNN’s 60 percent and MSNBC’s 42 percent declines.

In Monday-Sunday primetime, Fox has actually suffered a larger audience decline year-to-year in June than MSNBC, dropping 42 percent in total viewership and 50 percent in the key demo compared to MSNBC’s 36 percent and 48 percent, respectively. CNN, meanwhile, has seen its primetime audience sink 57 percent and 68 percent in the key demographic compared to last year.

Comparing the second-quarter ratings year-to-year, Fox News’ declines were slightly more pronounced. In daily Monday-Sunday viewership, Fox dropped 39 percent in total audience and 44 percent in the key demo. In contrast, MSNBC sank 30 percent in total viewership and 41 percent in the demographic, while CNN was down 45 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

And when looking at just Monday-Friday primetime, which features Fox’s top-rated programming like Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity, the network has experienced a 40-percent drop in total viewership in June compared to last year, along with a decline of 49 percent in the key demo. In the second quarter, Fox’s year-to-year total audience drop was 39 percent and 43 percent among viewers in the ad-friendly, ages 25-54 demographic.

Another data point underscoring how cable-news viewership is down across the board is the performance of Greg Gutfeld’s new Fox News late-night “comedy” show. Since debuting in April, it has easily won its timeslot and outperformed every one of CNN’s regular programs, something Fox and Gutfeld have repeatedly touted.

At the same time, it hasn’t come close to matching what Fox News @ Night did in the same 11 p.m. time slot last year in both total and key demographic viewership—a 29 percent decrease in the former and a 36 percent drop in the latter.

Fox News Ratings Free Fall Is a ‘Self-Inflicted Wound,’ Insiders Say

While CNN suffered greater year-to-year losses in M-F primetime for both the second quarter (48 percent in total viewers) and the month of June (55 percent in overall audience) than Fox, MSNBC saw significantly less leakage. For June, MSNBC was down 31 percent in total viewership and 44 percent in the demographic compared to a year ago. And as for the second quarter, MSNBC dropped 23 percent in viewers overall and 33 percent in the key demographic.

Of course, as for the ratings losses from January to June 2021, it is correct that Fox News has suffered far less significant declines than its rivals. At the same time, the network has also seen a drop in its viewership over that time period. And, as previously noted, Fox actually suffered a loss in viewership in January during a historic news cycle while CNN and MSNBC experienced record-high ratings.

CNN has slumped 70 percent in its daily total viewership, 75 percent in its total day demo, and 78 percent in its primetime viewership in the key demographic. MSNBC, too, seen a significant drop from its historic January highs. The channel’s daily total audience has sunk 54 percent, with similar slumps in its total day and primetime viewership in the key demographic.

While Fox News’ January-to-June losses aren’t anywhere near as severe, they still reach double-digit slides across the board. For instance, in the primetime demo, Fox is down 22 percent. In the total day viewership for the key demographic, the network has shed 19 percent of its audience.

And when looking just at their vaunted weekday primetime lineup, Fox News is down 26 percent in the ages 25-54 category and 19 percent in total viewership compared to January. And all three shows were down in January compared to the year before.

Hannity, for instance, was down 21 percent in overall viewership and 20 percent in the key demographic compared to January 2020. The Ingraham Angle, another MAGA-boosting opinion show, suffered a year-to-year 27 percent decline in viewers overall and 22 percent in the demo. In comparison, MSNBC’s weekday primetime lineup all experienced double-digit growth, and CNN’s shows in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. slot were up triple digits.

In the end, what one sees is that cable news viewership—regardless of ideological bent—is down across the spectrum.

When looking year-to-year, Fox News has experienced a similar plunge in their ratings as CNN and MSNBC. And while Fox has not experienced the drop in viewership since January that its rivals have suffered, both CNN and MSNBC saw an explosion of new viewers at the start of the year while Fox News had shed a large percentage of its audience post-election.

It’s a given that Fox News would push a negative narrative about its competitors, and of course the broader media context is lost on the right-wing outlets that boost it. But the reality is that all of cable news is slumping—and ultimately Fox may want to avoid talking about anyone else’s “credibility gap.”

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