News and Analysis

#1: Fox News Celebrates Sixth Year As The Top Channel On Basic Cable
POLAND - 2020/03/23: In this photo illustration a Fox News Channel logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Nielsen ratings brought Fox News an early Christmas present.

Fox News Channel will close out 2021 as the most-watched channel, not merely in cable news, but on all of basic cable. Viewers have made the conservative cable news network the top channel on basic cable for the last six of the network’s 25 years on the air. FNC — which debuted on October 7, 1996 — has also outpaced its liberal competitors MSNBC and CNN to become the number one choice in cable news for two decades.

“As we embark on our 20th year as the leader in cable news, the last six of which as number one in all of cable, I am incredibly proud of the unrivaled success we’ve had at FOX News Channel,” said FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott.

The network owned 10 of the top 15 programs in cable news, and nine of the top 15 shows among advertisers’ most-coveted demographic: viewers aged 25 to 54.

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” ended the year as the most-watched program on cable news with an average audience of 3.2 million viewers. Carlson’s populist conservative show, which interviewed figures ranging from Kyle Rittenhouse to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, proved such a ratings blockbuster that Carlson spun off a daytime show. “Tucker Carlson Today” began streaming on FoxNation in March.

“The Five” came in second with 2.9 million viewers, followed closely by “Hannity” with a 2.88 million-strong audience.

Scott also pointed with pride to the way Greg Gutfeld’s emphatically eponymous late-night show “Gutfeld!” consistently ranks as the number-two show in late night and beat number-one-ranked Stephen Colbert in a number of weeks. Gutfeld spent the year “transforming the entire late-night television landscape in the process, ensuring our continued momentum for many years to come,” said Scott.

In all, Fox News attracted an average audience of 1.3 million viewers through December 13; no other channel on basic cable exceeded one million viewers on average.

Fox News showed its continued dominance of cable news in its primetime schedule. FNC’s 2021 primetime ratings were nearly as high as rivals CNN and MSNBC combined. Fox News rated first in primetime, followed by sports giant ESPN, MSNBC, and CNN.

CNN barely broke one million viewers in primetime, in large part a reflection of the tumultuous year suffered by the network’s number one host, Chris Cuomo. CNN executives stood by Cuomo as revelations surfaced that he had advised his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), on media strategy to combat a string of sexual harassment allegations. As New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) released documents showing the CNN host had been more deeply involved in his brother’s defense than he publicly admitted, ratings for “Cuomo Prime Time” began to sink. The network placed him on leave pending an investigation, then fired him in early December as an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced against the younger Cuomo brother; his SiriusXM Radio show also abruptly came to an end. Presently, the network has renamed his series “CNN Prime Time” and had Michael Smerconish serve as guest host.

The network also concerned some of its core viewers in May when Don Lemon seemingly implied his show had been canceled; it had instead been rebranded “Don Lemon Tonight.”

Fox News prolonged its ratings success this year after significantly reshaping its programming lineup. In 2021:

  • Dana Perino joined Bill Hemmer as co-anchor of “America’s Newsroom” at 9 a.m. Eastern;
  • Harris Faulkner’s “The Faulkner Focus” began airing at 11 a.m.;
  • John Roberts and Sandra Smith became co-anchors of “America Reports” at 1 p.m.;
  • “The Story with Martha MacCallum” moved to 3 p.m.;
  • “Fox News Primetime” debuted at 7 p.m. The network announced its roster of rotating guest hosts would be temporary, with a permanent host named “at a later date,” which has not yet arrived;
  • The late-night comedy smash “Gutfeld!” debuted on April 5;
  • “FOX News @ Night with Shannon Bream” moved to the midnight slot; and
  • In June, Fox News added two new weekend programs: “Unfiltered” with Dan Bongino and “Sunday Night in America” with former Congressman Trey Gowdy.

“Special Report with Bret Baier” also saw a shake-up, as longtime panelists Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes departed the network in November. The show’s ratings increased sharply that month.

Nielsen ratings show 2021 proved a good year for centrist and conservative alternatives to CNN and MSNBC, in general. FNC’s most successful conservative challenger, Newsmax TV, also significantly increased its audience in 2020, due in part to controversies over FNC’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Newsmax grew its primetime audience by a whopping 38%, surging from 88th place among basic cable networks in 2020 to 60th place in 2021.

WGN America’s upstart cable news channel NewsNation, which debuted in September 2020 and significantly expanded its news programming this September, made its debut on the list as well.


  • Tucker Carlson’s success shows that middle-class conservatism represents America’s true national disposition.
  • Greg Gutfeld continues to show that humor is a universal language, especially when that humor respects viewers’ fundamental beliefs and convictions. The Big Three networks will seemingly do anything to avoid presenting a conservative as funny, endearing, or in any way possessing human warmth.
  • Viewers have rewarded Fox News’ decision to reorder its programming schedule, with new program offerings clearly finding their respective audiences, especially Gutfeld, Bream, MacCallum, and Bongino. More changes will be coming, as Chris Wallace departed the network for CNN’s streaming service this month.
  • MSNBC and CNN will face significant challenges in 2022. CNN has lost its most-watched host, Chris Cuomo, while MSNBC’s highest-rated personality, Rachel Maddow, will dial back her appearances on the network in the coming year. Brian Williams also departed MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” earlier this month. The chaos could allow either or both networks to reconsider their embrace of elitist, left-wing, ideologically-driven programming. This is particularly true of CNN, where the incoming top shareholder has said, “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and, you know, actually have journalists.” Sources have indicated that MSNBC executives seriously questioned Joy Reid’s future with the network earlier this fall as well.
  • Newsmax TV has sustained its role as Fox News’ dominant challenger on the Right. Other potential alternatives include The First TV, One America News Network, and Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV, all of which primarily find an audience via streaming platforms.
  • NewsNation, with its emphasis on unbiased reporting and a growing roster of talented news anchors (including Joe Donlon, Leland Vittert, Ashleigh Banfield, and most recently Dan Abrams), is well-positioned to make significant inroads in 2022.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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