Cable news - Statistics & Facts

Cable news refers to television channels devoted to 24-hour news broadcasts following the advent of cable television in the 1980s. In 2016, the total number of primetime viewers for cable news in the United States amounted to around 4.76 million. Some of the popular cable TV news networks in the United States include the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, as well as specialty channels such as Bloomberg Television, and ESPN News. Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC are the most widely watched cable news channels in the U.S., and are sometimes referred to as the “Big Three.”

Among the “Big Three,” Fox News is the leading cable news network in the United States averaging approximately 2.3 million primetime viewers. The network is followed by MSNBC which had around 1.7 million viewers tuned in during primetime in 2017, and CNN with around 855 thousand primetime viewers during that period. CNN recorded an average of 228 thousand total day viewers aged between 24 and 54 years around that time, while the numbers for FOX News stood at about 1.4 million viewers overall. In 2016, the top ten cable news hosts in the United States were all from Fox News.

The top two highest rated cable news programs at that time have both since stopped broadcasting. The number one show at the time, The O’Reilly Factor, was cancelled following backlash from advertisers after it was revealed in 2017 that the host, Bill O’Reilly, had settled five sexual harassment claims. The second highest-rated show at the time, The Kelly File, was discontinued when its host, Megyn Kelly, left for NBC News. In 2017, Fox News Hannity, hosted by political commentator Sean Hannity, took on the top spot among the leading cable news programs, with an average of around 3.18 million viewers. It was closely followed by Tucker Carlson Tonight, also of Fox News.

As of the first quarter of 2017, 33 percent of Americans aged 50 and above watched cable TV news weekly, the largest share for any age group. Sixty percent of consumers who watch Fox News are Republicans, while Democrat viewers account for 61 percent of consumers who watch CNN. Also divided along ideological lines based on political affiliation is the level of trust in cable news as a news source in the United States. In a June 2017 survey, 47 percent of Democrat respondents said they trusted cable news as a news source most of the time, while 12 percent of the respondents who were Republicans stated that they rarely trusted cable news as a news source.

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