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FOX News, MSNBC top basic cable’s prime-time viewership in July

With the news cycle continuing to heat up in Washington, D.C., and beyond, FOX News Channel (US) and MSNBC (US) topped basic cable in prime-time viewership during July.

FOX News won the month, averaging 2.11 million watchers 2+ in prime time, according to a Walt Disney Co. analysis of data from Nielsen Holdings spanning the period June 26 through July 30, while MSNBC’s average audience of 1.69 million placed second over the period. News category competitor CNN (US) ranked 13th in the month with 900,000 watchers in prime time.

HGTV (US) was third with 1.55 million viewers, ahead of USA (US)'s 1.51 million and History (US) with 1.34 million watchers. TBS (US) was sixth with 1.28 million watchers, just ahead of the 1.23 million for Discovery Channel (US), which splashed with "Shark Week" from July 23-30.

Rounding out the top 10 in prime time: Disney Channel (US) with 1.09 million viewers; ESPN (US), whose numbers might soon begin to kick up with the start of the college and pro football seasons, with 996,000 viewers; and Investigation Discovery (US) with 986,000.

If Discovery Communications Inc.'s pending $14.6 billion purchase of Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. gains the necessary shareholder and federal approvals and the networks attract similar audiences next July, the combined company would have held three of the 10 most-watched basic cable networks with HGTV, Discovery Channel and Investigation Discovery.

Gauged on a total-programming day basis, FOX News also set the pace in July with 1.31 million viewers. Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite (US) ranked second with 1.22 million watchers, well ahead of kids programming rival Disney Channel, which finished third in this measure with 923,000 watchers. MSNBC was fourth with 912,000, compared to 863,000 for fifth-place HGTV.

The rankings were similar during the final week of the month. The top four finishers in prime time for the month held those positions from July 24 through July 30: FOX News at 2.10 million watchers, MSNBC with 1.87 million, HGTV averaged 1.47 million, and USA tallied 1.45 million.

Discovery, aided by its aforementioned annual programming stunt, jumped into fifth with 1.40 million viewers on average, ahead of TBS’s 1.35 million viewers. History was seventh for the week with 1.23 million. Disney Channel was eighth again, this time with 1.10 million watchers, while CNN cracked the top 10, finishing ninth with 981,000, ahead of ID’s 959,000.

The top 5 basic cable networks in total-programming day for the week were the same as in prime time, with a slight reshuffling from their order in that daypart. FOX News and Nick ranked first and second again with 1.33 million and 1.15 million viewers, respectively. However, MSNBC and Disney Channel swapped positions, averaging 1.03 million and 938,000. HGTV again finished fifth, scoring with 827,000 viewers.

As for the shows themselves, HBO reigned with the penultimate season of "Game of Thrones." The show, the most-watched original series in the premium programmer’s history, claimed the top three spots in July, headed by the 12.7 million for the skein’s seventh-season bow July 16.

Disney Channel’s musical fantasy, telefilm sequel "Descendants 2" was fourth, garnering 8.57 million watchers on July 21. ESPN’s "Home Run Derby," during which the New York Yankees breakout star Aaron Judge slugged four balls over 500 feet, was next with 8.34 million viewers.

Other notable show deliveries: History's "Time Machine" installment titled "Amelia Earhardt: The Lost Evidence" flew before 5.30 million viewers July 9. Despite the Twitterverse’s disappointment that Olympic legend Michael Phelps didn’t actually swim side by side against a Great White, Discovery Channel’s top Shark Week entry, "Phelps vs. Shark" stood eighth on cable’s audience podium for the month with nearly 5.20 million watchers on July 23.

The third mid-season finale of AMC (US)'s "Fear the Walking Dead" airing July 9 from 9 p.m. to 11:10 p.m rounded out the top 10 cable shows for the month. The first installment scared up 4.30 million watchers, while the second notched 4.26 million.

The rankings reflect Nielsen live+7 viewing, blended with live+3 from July 17 through July 27, and live+ same day from July 28 through month’s end.