Fox, MSNBC Neck-and-Neck in Ratings as Viewers Monitor Trump

  • Murdoch’s network still leads, but Maddow scores key victories
  • Fox recovers after third-place finish in weeknight audience

Fox News and MSNBC are finishing the month of May in a dogfight for the viewers advertisers prize most.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which contributes an estimated 20 percent of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s profits, continues to get the biggest audience overall by far, according to Nielsen research cited by the network. But the bulk of those viewers are older and considered less lucrative to advertisers. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was the top draw at 9 p.m. among viewers ages 25 to 54 for the third straight month, and her network won that demographic in prime time on weeknights for the first time since 2000. Fox still won in all age groups for the full week including Saturdays and Sundays.

MSNBC, whose audience leans to the left, is benefiting from high interest in the various controversies surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration. Fox News’ viewership has also surged from a year earlier, but the channel, which appeals to conservatives, has been criticized for avoiding news stories that paint Trump in a negative light and for promoting conspiracy theories. The criticism has focused mostly on Fox’s prime-time lineup of commentators, including host Sean Hannity.

Tucker Carlson, who replaced top-rated host Bill O’Reilly when he departed last month under a cloud of sexual-harassment allegations, finished second to Maddow in the advertiser-friendly demographic. Carlson’s show was slightly ahead of MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” in the category. Among total viewers, Carlson ranked first and Maddow second.

“Maddow’s gains are not Fox News’ losses,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group. “Both are growing, but clearly MSNBC’s audience base is more animated versus where they were last year.” He advises buying 21st Century Fox shares and doesn’t have a rating for MSNBC’s corporate parent, Comcast Corp.

Shares of New York-based 21st Century Fox have dropped 3.6 percent this year, while Philadelphia-based Comcast has gained 20 percent.

Fox has had to contend with turmoil in its prime-time lineup and management. In the past year, the network has lost three of its biggest stars -- O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren. Kelly jumped to NBC, while Van Susteren is now at MSNBC.

In a sign of how tough the competition has become, Fox fell to third place in the younger advertising demographic for the five-day week that ended May 19 -- the first time that had happened since July 2016. The network recovered in the week that ended May 26, finishing first.

The ratings reveal the weakness in CNN’s prime-time lineup, with none of the network’s shows making the top five among 25- to 54-year-olds. Among total viewers, its biggest program was “Anderson Cooper 360,” which placed 20th.

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