Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight won the ratings battle in April. The network’s most popular show averaged more than three million viewers across the month during its 8 PM timeslot, which was good enough to best all of its primetime cable news competitors. The larger picture, however, isn’t quite so good for cable news in general as ratings have fallen considerably, likely for a combination of reasons.
According to Forbes, Tucker Carlson averaged just over three million viewers per episode during April. That’s well off the five million plus numbers he was putting up last year in the lead up to the election, but it was still enough to comfortably beat all other primetime cable news programs. The next most popular offerings were Fox’s The Five, Fox’s Hannity and The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, all of which averaged 2.7M viewers during the same period.
Why exactly cable news ratings are down so much is unclear, though there are several different factors likely playing some part in the slide. First, ratings for cable news traditionally grows during the lead up to a Presidential Election, which took place in November. Most people assumed numbers would slowly sag afterwards. Second, while there’s always news to cover, President Biden doesn’t offer quite the same level of constant interest as President Trump did. It’s no secret the former Apprentice host was a strong draw for cable news, Lastly, it’s likely more people getting vaccinated and moving about is having an effect on people’s viewing habits, as well.
Across all of primetime, Fox News averaged 2.2M viewers, which put it well ahead of MSNBC (1.6M) and CNN (1.0M). Those numbers represent a dip of more than twenty percent for each network compared with April of 2020. Exactly where the ratings will go from here is anyone’s guess. Fox News continues to face competition on the right from recent upstarts OANN, while both MSNBC (which has had some ratings wins over the past few years) and CNN are continuing to figure out how to position themselves in the market covering President Biden rather than President Trump.
Cable news ratings are about a whole lot more than the presentation of a specific show. There are many viewers who watch all primetime programming on a single network, and what’s going on in the world can often be the single biggest ratings driver. That being said, having the right host in the right timeslot is important, and over the past few years, it has been clear that certain hosts (Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, etc) are consistently performing better than their counterparts on the same network.
Fox News recently gave The Five star Greg Gutfeld his own program (Gutfeld!) which averaged 1.5M viewers and beat its competitors on MSNBC and CNN. It’s very likely we could see some tinkering in response by the other networks, as well as a possible shakeup in some timeslots to better compete with Fox News in primetime. We’ll just have to see how things develop over the next few months.