The State of Viewership

Jeffrey Silverman, PhD
Director, Data Science & Analytics
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Drawn-out Election Gives Cable's Talking Heads Big Tune-in Gains

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Author
Jeffrey Silverman, PhD
Director, Data Science & Analytics
Nov 24, 2020
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Election night 2020 brought big audiences to the cable news channels, but as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and the race was too close to call, viewers eagerly tuned-in to get the latest updates. As vote counts trickled in over the days that followed, primetime cable news programming saw a significant boost in household tune-in compared to the week before, according to our latest data analysis.

As votes were counted, CNN and MSNBC saw massive gains in viewership on Election Day and continuing into the week past. Fox News, however, saw tune-in begin to drop November 9 as the network began to call other states in favor of President-elect Biden. With other networks like Newsmax and emerging digital content emerging as a counter to Fox, this could be an interesting shift in the new year that we’ll be following. 

Black and Hispanic voters played a pivotal role in this year’s election, casting record votes and impacting the heightened role of the swing states. Similar to the voting pattern, the viewing habits between Black and Hispanic households differed dramatically. Black households over-indexed on viewership of CNN and MSNBC leading up to and following the election. While  Hispanic households under-indexed on most of these shows during the same time period. 

Let’s take a look at primetime programming in the days immediately following the election. 

Nov. 4 

The day after the election brought especially big numbers for MSNBC and Fox News' regular programming, with household viewership nearly doubling from a week before for every MSNBC program.

  • MSNBC: 
  • The Reid Out (7 p.m. ET) was up 129%;
  • All In with Chris Hayes (8 p.m. ET) was up 112%
  • The Rachel Maddow Show (9 p.m. ET) was up 92%
  • The Last Word with Laurence O’Donnell (10 p.m. ET) was also up 88%
  • The 11th Hour with Brian Williams (11 p.m. ET) was up 85%
  • Fox News: 
  • The Story With Martha MacCallum (7 p.m. ET) was up 124%
  • Tucker Carlson Tonight (8 p.m. ET) was up 64%
  • Hannity (9 p.m. ET) was up 61%
  • The Ingraham Angle (10 p.m. ET) was up 57%
  • FOX News @ Night with Shannon Bream (11 p.m. ET) was up 79%.

Nov. 5

As the election’s results were still uncertain by Thursday, the networks benefited from continued and massive increases when typical post-Election Day coverage would begin to drop. While CNN and MSNBC saw the largest increases compared to the previous week, Fox also garnered high household viewership across its weekday lineup.  Every primetime program on CNN was up at least 234% from a week before, while nearly every MSNBC program continued to see more than twice as much tune-in from the previous week. Meanwhile, Fox News saw modest gains as it seemed less likely that the Republican incumbent would retain office. 

  • CNN: 
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (6 p.m.) +290%
  • Erin Burnett OutFront (7 p.m.) +341%
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8 p.m.) +234%
  • Cuomo Prime Time (9 p.m.) +234%
  • CNN Tonight with Don Lemon (10 p.m.) +269%
  • MSNBC: 
  • The Reid Out (7 p.m. ET) +133%
  • All In with Chris Hayes (8 p.m. ET) +134%
  • The Rachel Maddow Show (9 p.m. ET) +82%
  • The Last Word with Laurence O’Donnell (10 p.m. ET) +107%
  • The 11th Hour with Brian Williams (11 p.m. ET) +107%
  • Fox News: 
  • The Story With Martha MacCallum (7 p.m. ET) +141%
  • Tucker Carlson Tonight (8 p.m. ET) +34%
  • Hannity (9 p.m. ET) +42%
  • The Ingraham Angle (10 p.m. ET) +48% 
  • FOX News @ Night with Shannon Bream (11 p.m. ET) +65% 

Nov. 9

On Monday, the first weekday after the networks called the election for Biden, CNN mostly continued their week-over-week gains, while MSNBC and Fox households flattened or dropped out. In other words, CNN was getting higher viewership after the result than they were in the run-up to election day, likely due to viewers eager for more content on the new president-elect. It was by November 9 that Trump began tweeting about Fox’s unfavorable coverage and advocating for other sources like Newsmax. 

  • CNN: 
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (6 p.m. ET) +11%
  • Erin Burnett OutFront  (7 p.m. ET) +11%
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8 p.m. ET) -1%
  • Cuomo Prime Time (9 p.m. ET) +21%
  • CNN Tonight with Don Lemon (10 p.m. ET)+47%
  • MSNBC: 
  • The Reid Out (7 p.m. ET) -3%
  • All In with Chris Hayes (8 p.m. ET) +0% (flat)
  • The Rachel Maddow Show (9 p.m. ET) -5%
  • The Last Word with Laurence O’Donnell (10 p.m. ET) -3%
  • The 11th Hour with Brian Williams (11 p.m. ET) -1%
  • Fox News: 
  • The Story With Martha MacCallum (7 p.m. ET) -37%
  • Tucker Carlson Tonight (8 p.m. ET) -11% 
  • Hannity (9 p.m. ET) -18%
  • The Ingraham Angle (10 p.m. ET) -25%

The 2020 Presidential Election was not short of suspense beginning when votes started to trickle in and continuing for days. This unique scenario provided some clear boosts in viewership from cable news’ top weekday news programs, while the country eagerly awaited the result. We’ll continue following this space as Newsmax makes a play for Fox News viewers, digital contenders emerge, and cable news coverage returns to the news dujour. 


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Our mission is to create data at the heart of TV, powering a more scientific approach to advertising and a better viewing experience for everyone.

Real-Time Disruption in Real-World Viewership

Audiences are enjoying more television content today. As viewership rapidly shifts across a growing set of innovative platforms, formats and devices, we provide real-time insights to help drive business decisions.

For the Love of Television

Samba TV enables marketers to build engaged audiences, and empowers viewers to spend more time with programming and brands they love. We believe data should be independent, not monopolised by walled gardens that measure their own media.

We Turn Noise into Knowledge

We utilize our AI/ML driven tech stack and comprehensive, accurate first-party data that is gathered from 24 leading CTV brands globally, to power real-time decision making and optimise audiences' consumer journey across an expanding slate of platforms.

Why Samba TV?

Our mission is to create data at the heart of TV, powering a more scientific approach to advertising and a better viewing experience for everyone.

Real-Time Disruption in Real-World Viewership

Audiences are enjoying more television content today. As viewership rapidly shifts across a growing set of innovative platforms, formats and devices, we provide real-time insights to help drive business decisions.

For the Love of Television

Samba TV enables marketers to build engaged audiences, and empowers viewers to spend more time with programming and brands they love. We believe data should be independent, not monopolized by walled gardens that measure their own media.

We Turn Noise into Knowledge

We utilize our AI/ML driven tech stack and comprehensive, accurate first-party data that is gathered from 24 leading CTV brands globally, to power real-time decision making and optimize audiences' consumer journey across an expanding slate of platforms.

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