In 2023, the cable news landscape underwent significant changes, marked by challenges and shifts in viewership. Despite the changes, Fox News maintained its position as the most-watched cable network, a title it has held for eight consecutive years. However, it faced its lowest average audience since 2015, with 1.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen data.
The decline can be partly attributed to the departure of star Tucker Carlson, its then top-rated prime-time anchor, who has found success on Elon Musk’s X, formerly Twitter. There was also the subsequent shift of many loyal Fox News viewers to Newsmax in 2023, at the start of Trump’s presidential campaign.
In the past year, MSNBC saw a 7% increase in its viewership, totaling 792,000 viewers on average. The boost could be attributed to its focus on Trump’s legal troubles, and popular left-wing hosts like Rachel Maddow.
CNN experienced its lowest performance since 2014, averaging 481,000 viewers and marking a record low in the 25-54 age group. Despite this, CNN maintained its lead over MSNBC in this demographic for the tenth year for total day viewership and the fourth year for prime time.
While Fox has remained atop the industry, the network saw an 18 percent drop in year-over-year total viewers from 1.49 million to 1.2 million – its lowest total viewership since 2015. MSNBC averaged 784,000 total day viewers, up from 733,000 the year before. CNN, meanwhile, averaged 482,000 total day viewers, a 15 percent drop from 2022’s 568,000 average viewers.
In the total day demo, MSNBC was up 5 percent with 87,000 total average viewers – landing in third. CNN was in second with 95,000 – a 22 percent drop year over year. Fox led the pack with 150,000 total average viewers – a 34 percent drop from the previous year.
Fox’s The Five brought in 2.9 million total viewers and 303,000 demo viewers to top the charts. Jesse Watters came in second with 2.5 million total viewers and saw 255,000 demo viewers. Sean Hannity scored 2.4 million total viewers, but landed in second overall in the demo with 217,000 demo viewers. Bret Baier was the only other cable news show to average over 2 million viewers for the year and landed in fourth place overall followed by Laura Ingraham, who continues to be the most-watched woman on cable news. Greg Gutfeld landed in sixth place in total viewers.
The decline in cable news viewership is part of a larger trend caused by cord-cutting and a move towards streaming services, posing challenges for networks reliant on pay TV fees. Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have seen their reach drop from over 90 million homes in 2016 to about 70 million. The trend is especially pronounced for CNN, known for attracting a younger audience, as younger viewers are increasingly turning to digital platforms.
News viewers are generally older and more inclined to maintain their pay TV subscriptions, as stated by Jill Rosengard Hill, executive vice president for global media and entertainment at Magid, a research firm. “They value the ease of use,” she explained to the L.A. Times.
In response to the evolving media landscape, networks are actively adapting. For instance, Fox News has developed its own streaming service, Fox Nation, and CNN is also transitioning to the streaming era under new leadership.