Fox News tops the ratings for the year – in both news and basic cable

The year-end television ratings came out this week, and the big winner is the Fox News Channel – not only against the competition in cable news, but in all of basic cable.  The Fox News Channel finished the year as the most watched basic cable television channel both in prime time and in the entire day.  This is the second year that Fox News has achieved that standing.

The loss of some of the channel's major talent in 2017, like Megyn Kelly, Bill O'Reilly, and Eric Bolling, and the schedule changes that resulted had challenged FNC during the past year.  But when the year-end numbers were added up – especially after the channel's prime-time schedule was strengthened this fall with the addition of Laura Ingraham – they confirmed that FNC had never ceded its overall lead.

press release from Fox News led with the good news:

FOX News Channel (FNC) marked its second consecutive year as the most-watched basic cable network in primetime and total day in total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, averaging 2.4 million viewers in primetime and 1.5 million viewers in total day. FNC also notched its highest-rated year in network history on a 24-hour basis in total viewers and led the way in primetime with both total viewers and the Adults 25-54 demographic.

As usual, the ratings news was nuanced, and MSNBC, the champion of left-wing causes and the "Resistance" and FNC's main competitor, also had something to crow about.  As Variety reported in its article, headlined "Cable News Ratings: MSNBC Posts Biggest Percentage Gains of 2017, Fox News Stays on Top":

For the period beginning Dec. 26, 2016 and ending Dec. 10, 2017, Fox News was on top in both primetime and total day viewership, but MSNBC posted the biggest percentage gains in the key measures.

In primetime, Fox News was number one with an average of 2.42 million viewers with 488,000 of those falling in the key adults 25-54 demographic. That is approximately even with the network's performance in both measures last year. MSNBC was second with 1.62 million viewers and 370,000 in the demo, an impressive increase of 50 percent in total viewers and 37 percent in the demo. CNN was third in total viewers with 1.06 million and tied MSNBC in the demo with 370,000, down 15 percent in total viewers and 13 percent in the demo[.] ...

In total day, Fox News was again number one. The network averaged 1.5 million viewers with 321,000 in the demo. That is up eight percent in total viewers and 15 percent in the demo. MSNBC was second in total viewers with 885,000 but third in the demo with 203,000. Nevertheless, MSNBC was up in total day by 47 percent in total viewers and 33 percent in the demo. CNN was third in total viewers with 783,000 but second in the demo with 257,000, up four percent in total viewers and 11 percent in the demo.

When compared with the prime-time (8-11 P.M. E.T.) ratings for the broadcast television networks, Fox News came in number five.


FNC's sister channel, the Fox Business Network, had its own reasons to celebrate.  According to an FBN news release:

FOX Business Network (FBN) finished 2017 with its first yearly win over CNBC in Business Day viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. As business news dominated the headlines in 2017, FBN scored its highest-rated year ever, achieving record ratings across Business Day and Total Day in both total viewers and the coveted A25-54 demo. In addition, all of FBN's programs recorded their highest rated year to date in total viewers, delivering five of the six top rated programs of the year in all of business television[.] ...

Marking two consecutive years as the leader in business news, Lou Dobbs Tonight (7PM/ET) delivered the year's number one rated program in business television across both total viewers and the A25-54 demo. The program averaged 345,000 total viewers (up 28 percent) and 41,000 in the demo, compared to 2016.

During the past seven months, many readers of my articles on the cable news wars and the Fox News Channel in particular have commented that they have come to prefer FBN's prime-time programs over FNC's.  That was a frequently heard response to the scheduling changes at FNC in the wake of Bill O'Reilly's ouster last April – especially the ill fated move of the program The Five to prime time from May 1 until it was moved back to 5 P.M. on September 25.  FNC's new fall prime-time schedule – Tucker Carlson at 8 P.M. followed by Sean Hannity at 9 and Laura Ingraham at 10 – appears to have stabilized the channel's all-important marquee offerings.

Sean Hannity.

During the past year, veteran prime-time host Sean Hannity, whose nightly program moved from 10 to 9 P.M. E.T. on September 25 to challenge MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, "[i]n primetime, for the first time in network history ... topped all of cable news with 3.2 million viewers (+17%) and 661,000 in [the preferred demo] Adults 25-54 (+28%)."

Another metric reflecting the new digital world of accessing news online also has Fox News at the top.  This might seem surprising since Fox News is considered legacy media and not a new digital source specifically started up as an online venture (like HuffPo or Yahoo News, for example).  According to an article at Fast Company on December 8, "Fox News and the New York Times led Facebook engagement last month":

With Facebook and Google controlling the vast majority of digital ad revenue, all industry eyes are on which media companies perform best on those platforms. For Facebook, the rankings are always a yo-yo, with publishers' engagement waxing and waning along with the frenetic news cycle and ever-changing algorithm.

According to new data from NewsWhip, in November Fox News and the New York Times were, respectively, the top two most engaged publishers on the platform.

The article at NewsWhip, which did the measuring, reports this about Fox News:

Fox News remains the most engaged publisher on Facebook, with 21.5 million interactions on November web content.

ComScore, which also measures website activity, reported that Fox News dot com, aka Fox News Digital:

... had its most successful year ever across major metrics. From January 2017 to November of 2017, FOX News Digital saw a 29% increase in average monthly unique visitors, a 54% increase in video views, and a 17% increase in page views year-over-year. October 2017 was a record month for FOX News Digital, with over 96 million unique visitors per comScore.

In the high-power Twitter realm, the Washington Times reported on December 12 that "Fox was also deemed 'the top-tweeted news outlet for the year' by Twitter itself."

While the cable news wars of 2017 show no signs of ending, Fox News and Fox Business Channel appear to be ending the year on a high note.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

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