With online media, Google, and the TV remote all at our fingertips, the ways in which Americans interact with cable news is evolving. Over the past few years, we’ve seen news viewership shoot up during new and ambiguous situations, while leveling off at long-tail news cycles. And with the world gripped by Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people’s brave resistance, it’s clear that Americans are returning to traditional cable news for their information.
On Thursday 2/24, the day that Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC all saw higher reach than any other day within the past 6 months. Viewers were glued to their TVs, with 10.1M U.S. households watching FOX News, 8.3M watching CNN, and 4.3M watching MSNBC on 2/24. Viewership across each network far outpaced rates seen during recent COVID spikes, as people sought commentary from the experts on how events in Ukraine were unfolding.
Though FOX News drew in the highest ratings on 2/24, CNN saw the most dramatic spike. Daily CNN viewership outpaced the 6-month average by 144%, while FOX News and MSNBC saw viewership spike to about 80% higher than average. Throughout the past six months, FOX News’ average daily reach has outpaced CNN’s by 63%, but the difference shrunk to just 21% on 2/24.
With the constantly breaking news cycle of the Ukraine invasion, viewers have continued watching cable news at high rates. Since the invasion, each network's reach has remained above baseline, with reach on 3/6 at 77% higher than average on CNN, 28% higher than average on FOX News, and 4% higher on MSNBC.
In addition to more people watching cable news in light of the Ukraine invasion, viewers have been tuning in for longer durations. On 2/24, CNN and FOX News saw the highest average duration per viewing household of the past six months, at 31% and 20% higher than average, respectively. MSNBC saw a less dramatic increase of 18%, with 2/24 ranking as the network’s sixth highest average duration per viewing household over the last six months.
Out of the three networks, CNN has seen the highest spike in average time spent watching. In fact, every day between 2/24 and 3/6 saw a higher average duration per viewing household on CNN than the six month average. Meanwhile, the average duration per viewing household leveled off on FOX News on 3/5, dropping to 1% below average that day. On MSNBC, the average duration per viewing household leveled off even earlier on only 2/26, at 3% below average.
The spike on CNN caused its average duration per viewing household to surpass MSNBC for the first time in the past six months. Evidently, the MSNBC audience typically watches for more minutes each day, but surrounding the Ukraine invasion, CNN’s audience has been more engaged. This suggests that people who typically spend little time watching the news in daily life have flocked to CNN for coverage surrounding the invasion, while MSNBC’s audience has remained more consistent.
As people navigate the facts behind Russia’s assault and what it might mean for the world, it’s clear that they are looking for perspective and commentary from experts they trust. Whether the spikes on CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC will be sustained likely depends on the length of the news cycle, and let’s hope it’s a short one.
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