MSNBC’s unabashed liberal primetime lineup had stunning ratings success for the network in 2017, increasing its viewership by almost 50 percent compared to the 2016 campaign cycle. MSNBC ends the year with its largest daily audience since the network began in 1996.
The primetime home of Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell had the biggest ratings gain in 2017 of any all-news cable channel.
And in terms of the whole cable television spectrum, “MSNBC finished 2017 as the third-most-watched basic cable network,” Adweek reports. “Only behind powerhouses Fox News and ESPN,”
Last year, MSNBC was the 8th most-watched basic cable channel.
MSNBC averaged 1.6 million primetime viewers in 2017. For context, that compares to the 900,000 viewers MSNBC averaged in 2011, and the mediocre 385,000 viewers the network had in primetime during 2006 when MSNBC was barely a blip on the cable ratings screen.
Overall, Donald Trump had a good effect on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News this year. All three enjoyed big audiences gains as viewers scrambled to keep up with the chaotic news events surrounding the historically hated president. But MSNBC posted the biggest gains over last year.
And it wasn’t just primetime. Shows that were hosted by Nicolle Wallace, Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle, Ari Melber, and Joy Reid all had great numbers in 2017.
Heading into 2018, MSNBC’s Maddow is surfing on a ratings momentum wave. Pitted against Sean Hannity in the 9 p.m. time slot, Maddow in the past few weeks has moved ahead of Trump’s favorite yes-man and has been constantly beating Hannity among viewers 25-54, the demographic most prized by advertisers.
During the first three weeks of December, Maddow beat Hannity on 10 of the 15 weekday broadcasts.
Hannity remains Fox News’ most important and longest-running primetime property. If he descends into a permanent second place position in 2018 as Trump’s Russia scandal grows and viewers clamor for Maddow’s take on it, that would be a huge professional embarrassment for Fox News, and a personal defeat for Fox News’ Trump-worshipping host.
Looking back on 2017, the cable news ratings turning point came back in May when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and all hell broke loose on the Russia election story. Filled with never-ending revelations that rocked the Trump White House, May motivated MSNBC fans to tune into their favorite programs.
Suddenly Fox News, which hadn’t been in a real ratings fight for at least a decade, was challenged nightly by MSNBC.
Electorally, all signs point to a Democratic wave in 2018. Will the same be true for cable news?