What happens when you combine a global pandemic and a hotly contested, polarizing, presidential election? Incredibly high cable TV news viewership as “news” becomes our country’s new hit reality TV show.
In looking across all cable news networks, Nielsen ratings have soared both year over year as well as compared to previous presidential election years when looking at both total Adults as well as Adults 25-54.
The spike in March-June can be primarily attributed to COVID-19, with people beginning to work from home and being glued to news and financial news networks throughout the day as new information was being released. Although July did see declines, numbers picked back up in August as both parties had their national conventions.
Overall, in 2020 nearly all cable news networks are setting new records in terms of viewership. When compared to 2016 numbers, MSNBC comes out the clear winner in terms of the lift in overall viewership with a 107% increase. Total viewership though is still dominated by Fox News who remains 51% larger than MSNBC, its next closest competitor.
These record setting trends will likely continue if we look at 2016 as our guide. Typically during election years there is a boost in news viewership leading into the election. If that trend continues, we will see record viewership numbers in late October and early November when viewership peaks.
In fact, this elevated viewership may be with us for quite some time. In looking at 2016 and 2017 data there was a 26% lift in viewership from January through June of 2017 as people were glued to their TV on both sides of the political spectrum as the new President moved into the oval office.