Cable news wars turn red-hot as Fox roars back

Fall is here, and, as usual, it's the time of the year when the broadcast television networks and the cable channels introduce their new schedules.  The channels devoted to cable news are not at all different – except that this year, Fox News is alone among the big three (FNC, CNN, and MSNBC) in shaking things up as the leaves are starting to fall.

Fox News started introducing its new schedule incrementally last Monday.  Initially, Hannity moved back to the 9 P.M. time slot previously occupied since May 1 by The Five, which has now returned to 5 P.M., while a new hour of news with rotating hosts took over at 10.  On October 30, the process will finish when Laura Ingraham starts her new permanent show at 10 P.M. and Shannon Bream anchors a live hour of news at 11.

The numbers on opening night don't always predict the ratings, as viewing patterns have yet to settle in, but so far, Fox couldn't be more pleased with the reports from Monday.  Sean Hannity had the most watched cable news show of the night and handily beat Rachel Maddow at MSNBC.  In recent weeks, Maddow had risen to the top spot on cable news with her program that was the #1 show on most nights.  On Monday, Fox News won the entire evening in prime time as well as during the rest of the day, both in total viewers and among the prime or preferred demographic metric (viewers 25 to 54).

Sean Hannity followed on Tuesday with another very strong program, when he welcomed Bill O'Reilly as an in-studio guest for over half of his program.  That should ensure another big ratings win.  Later in the week, Hannity will travel to Washington, D.C. to interview Speaker Paul Ryan [corrected]  and go on to Florida to chat with the country's #1 radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

Other marquee guests on Fox News on Tuesday included Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tucker Carlson Tonight; the parents of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student who died shortly after being released (in a coma) by his captors in North Korea last June, in their first interview since their son's death, on Fox & Friends; and education secretary Betsy DeVos, who appeared with Martha MacCallum.

Harris Faulkner.

Sandra Smith.

On Tuesday, Fox News announced changes in its daytime schedule to take effect on Monday, October 2.  Harris Faulkner, a Fox News weekend anchor and a co-host of Fox News Outnumbered since it premiered in 2014, will solo-host a new program, Outnumbered Overtime, at 1 P.M. E.T.  Interestingly, this new hour evolved from an internet program of the same name that Faulkner hosted online.  A new hour at 2 P.M. will be anchored by Dana Perino, an original co-host of The Five since it came on in 2011.  Finally, veteran FBN and FNC host and co-host (of OutnumberedSandra Smith will become the permanent co-host of America's Newsroom, joining Bill Hemmer from 9 to 11 A.M.  Faulkner, Smith, and Perino will continue in their roles on Outnumbered and The Five.

Another story that involves the Fox cable brand that has been largely below the radar is the slow and steady rise in popularity of the Fox Business Network (FBN) to the top of the ratings of business news channels.  FBN's competition is CNBC, which, since its launch in the early 1990s, had been the go-to cable source for business news.  However, in recent years, CNBC's position has weakened to the point that it is now #2 in the ratings.

news release from FBN on Tuesday highlighted the channel's recent success:

FOX Business Network (FBN) ended the third quarter as the number one rated business network on television, marking the first time ever the network has outpaced rival CNBC in Business Day viewers for four consecutive quarters. In addition, FBN had the top five rated business programs for the quarter, while CNBC delivered 22 year lows in Business Day viewers and record lows in the 25-54 demo.

Averaging 187,000 total viewers, FBN saw its Business Day audience grow 26 percent over last year. Led by strong performances from anchors Stuart Varney, Neil Cavuto, Trish Regan, and Liz Claman, FBN's Business Day came out 23 percent ahead of CNBC's quarterly performance.

As the Fox News Channel itself has seen some of its loyal viewers jumping ship in light of the forced ousters earlier in 2017 of popular hosts Bill O'Reilly and Eric Bolling, and the more frequent appearances on FNC of left-of-center contributors, many American Thinker readers have commented that they are transferring their allegiances to FBN's programming and hosts.

Of course, TV ratings are prone to the vicissitudes and volatility of the business at hand, and nothing is set in stone.  A Fox news release, also on Tuesday (in light of the release of the Q3 ratings), proclaimed:

Continuing its reign as the most-watched cable news network, FOX News Channel (FNC) marked 63 consecutive quarters as the highest-rated cable news channel in total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. FNC also dominated basic cable in both primetime and total day in total viewers, marking five consecutive quarters as the top-rated basic cable network in both categories.

The same release noted, however, that Rachel Maddow on MSNBC at 9 P.M. had the #1 show on cable news in both total viewers and the demographic in Q3.  It is this statistic that FNC would like to change with the move of the channel's most popular prime-time program, Hannity, to 9 P.M. this week, in order to directly challenge Maddow.  So far, so good on that score, but we shall soon see if Hannity's win over Maddow holds into the future.

Peter Barry Chowka is a widely published author and journalist.  He writes most frequently these days for American Thinker.  His website is  Follow Peter on Twitter.

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