Every year, more Americans cut the cord and cancel their cable TV subscriptions. That means that news organizations across the board are facing a shrinking viewership. They’re battling to keep viewers’ attention and attract ad revenue. Year after year, Fox News is the cable network winning that battle. Let’s dive into the numbers and find out why.

Fox Is The Most Watched Cable Television Network

Fox News leads the pack in terms of the number of people who are watching the network and its popular shows. 2023 was the 8th consecutive year that Fox News has been on top, with the six top shows in the industry. It was the network’s 22nd year in a row with the most viewers in both daytime and primetime.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s important to note here that the cable industry as a whole has fewer viewers than it did a year ago. That’s a trend that’s expected to continue. More Americans rely on streaming services and not cable. Most get their news online. Cable television is on the decline and that’s not great for anybody, including Fox News.

Which Fox Shows Performed The Best?

In addition to dominating the overall ratings, Fox News crushed the competition in viewership for individual shows. The top five daily shows were The Five, Jesse Watters Primetime, Sean Hannity, Special Report with Bret Baier, and The Ingraham Angle. Jesse Watters was Fox News’ replacement for Tucker Carlson. (More on him in a minute.)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

What’s notable here is that The Five is the first non-primetime show to earn the number one spot. The show also came in at number one in the coveted 25-54 demographic. That’s important because Fox News has struggled to attract younger viewers and has performed well most consistently with a rapidly aging audience. The Five averaged 2.89 million viewers.

The Tucker Carlson Effect

Before the 2023 numbers were released, many in the industry wondered how the departure of Tucker Carlson would impact Fox News’ ratings. Carlson was fired amid controversy about racist texts that were revealed as part of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News. Fox News executives claim to have been shocked by the text.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There were some in the industry who dismissed the idea that the content of Carlson’s text could have been a surprise. He regularly touted ideas shared by white supremacists on his show. One article in Variety said that executives apparently thought Carlson was playing a role. He now engages with far-right conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones on X.

What About That Dominion Voting Systems Lawsuit?

2023 was an eventful year for Fox News. The network was embroiled in a huge lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. Various hosts on Fox spread disproven theories about Dominion Voting Systems machines assigning votes to Joe Biden that should have gone to Donald Trump. There’s evidence that they continued to besmirch Dominion even after they knew the claims were false.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fox News ultimately settled the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit for $787 million dollars. That made it one of the most expensive settlements in United States history. Dominion’s lawyer Justin Nelson stated, “The truth matters. Lies have consequences.” The settlement did not require Fox News or its owner, Rupert Murdoch, to apologize to Dominion for the lies.

Have High Ratings Translated to More Viewers For Fox News?

You already know that Fox News has dominated cable news ratings, but what about actual viewership? With more people leaving cable television behind, what’s happening with the other numbers? Overall, Fox News saw an 18% decline in total viewers. That made 2023 its lowest year in viewership since 2015.

Source: Pexels/ Huynh Dat

That 18% drop translated to a year-over-year decline in viewers from 1.49 million in 2022 to 1.2 million in 2023. That’s a significant drop and one that’s unsurprising. Fox viewers tend to be older. That’s an issue because older people die at higher rates than young ones. The only show that’s been attracting younger viewers is The Five.

The One Network That Has Increased Viewership

If Fox News has lost out in terms of its total viewership, you might assume that other cable news networks are experiencing the same thing. That’s true for most, but not all of Fox News’ competitors. MSNBC, which is arguably the opposite of Fox in ideology, was the only cable news network to see an increase in total daily viewers.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2023, MSNBC averaged 784,000 total day viewers, which was an increase from 733,000 in 2022. That’s a total increase of just under 7%. What makes that impressive is that MSNBC is operating in the same conditions as other networks. Their increased viewership is significant and something that must be concerning to Fox News and other competitors.

MSNBC’s Popular Shows

MSNBC’s ratings and viewership in 2023 cemented its place as the number two cable news network behind Fox. Many of its primetime and daytime shows continued to be popular, although they’re still lagging in the 25-54 demographic. The network has also turned many of its most popular shows into podcasts.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The network’s two most popular primetime shows are those hosted by Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. Other popular shows include early evening shows hosted by Nicolle Wallace and Ari Melber. Morning Joe has also retained its popularity and airs daily on the network. These shows are part of the reason that MSNBC has continued to attract viewers.

What About CNN?

You might be wondering where CNN fits in with Fox News and MSNBC. CNN, which was the first 24-hour cable news network, saw a drop in viewership only slightly smaller than Fox News. They dropped from 568,000 average daily viewers in 2022 to 482,000 in 2023. That’s a decrease of 15% and might spell trouble for the network.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to say for certain, but it’s possible that CNN’s leadership changes and rebranding in 2023 may have played a role in viewer departures. CNN made an obvious move to the right. There were some controversial decisions along the way, including a town hall with Donald Trump that many CNN viewers found upsetting and disheartening.

Who Led The Way At CNN?

CNN might have come in a distant third to Fox News and MSNBC, but the network still has some popular shows. Its most popular was Anderson Cooper 360. Cooper’s show brought in an average of 743,000 viewers, making it the 29th most-watched show and 17th in the 25-54 demographic. That’s not surprising given Cooper’s longevity on CNN.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Other popular hosts on CNN include Erin Burnett, Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and Kaitlin Collins, in that order. While CNN certainly earns some money from these shows, they are lagging far behind both Fox News and MSNBC in popularity. The one ray of hope for CNN is that they’re still winning the 25-54 demographic.

The Aging Cable News Viewership

An aging audience is definitely something all cable news networks should be concerned about. While MSNBC may be the only network to be attracting new viewers, it actually has the highest average audience age of the big three networks. That’s a serious issue and it’s going to require all three networks to think about adapting to streaming.

Source: Pexels/ Expect Best

Just how old are cable news viewers? MSNBC has the oldest audience with an average age of 70 in the fourth quarter of 2023. Fox News is right behind them with an average age of 69. CNN has seen the biggest leap in its average age, which is 67. That’s an increase from 60 in 2017.

Fox Events Scored Big In 2023

2023 wasn’t an election year. Fox News still managed to earn substantial ratings and viewership thanks to two GOP presidential primary debates, which featured everyone except Donald Trump. They also got a ratings boost from their coverage of the Israel-Hamas war in the second half of the year. These special events have given Fox’s ratings a boost in major cities.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most anticipated and highly-rated special events was hosted by Sean Hannity. He invited California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to debate on his show. Overall, Fox has seen double-digit growth in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Those are the top four U.S. cable news markets.

What Does The Future Hold For Cable News?

You might be wondering what the future holds for cable news. You’re not alone. We’re willing to bet that all of the big three cable news networks are wondering the same thing. MSNBC is at least attracting new viewers, but that’s a trend that’s unlikely to continue. So what can they do to save themselves?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The bottom line is that unless something substantial changes, cable news is going to die out. The increasing popularity of streaming services and cable news’ aging viewership aren’t a recipe for success. Fox News may still be winning the ratings battle, but it remains to see whether ratings dominance is a war that anybody can win in the long term.