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Pew Research: Cable news networks see 55% prime-time audience gain in 2016

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Pew Research: Cable news networks see 55% prime-time audience gain in 2016

With the contentious and historic presidential election cycle leading to expanded coverage, the major cable news networks scored a collective viewership gain of 55% in prime-time during 2016, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Pew Research Center’s annual "State of the News Media" study found that FOX News Channel (US), CNN (US) and MSNBC (US) combined to average 4.8 million viewers in prime time last year. That marked a 55% jump from 3.1 million in 2015, according to a Pew analysis of data from Nielsen Holdings.

The cycle that ultimately resulted in Republican Donald Trump upsetting Democrat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States also yielded viewership gains during daytime. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the three cable news networks averaged 2.72 million collective viewers in 2016, 36% more than the almost 2 million watchers the prior year, according to the Pew analysis.

The viewership spike generated a significant rise in advertising revenues for the three networks, which combined to record a 34.5% increase to $1.95 billion from $1.45 billion, according to a Pew analysis of data from SNL Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. Affiliate fees also climbed last year, growing to $2.69 billion from $2.44 billion in 2015.

All told, total revenue for the three cable news networks improved 19.3% to $4.76 billion from $3.99 billion, with the combined profits for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC growing 29% to $2.67 billion from $2.07 billion in 2015, according to a Pew analysis of the SNL Kagan data.

Pew noted the expanded coverage last year didn’t come without an increase in costs. The three networks upped their newsroom spending 8.9% to an estimated $2.09 billion from $1.92 billion, based on SNL Kagan projections.

As to cable business networks, CNBC (US), FOX Business Network (US) and Bloomberg Television (US) rang up a 3.4% gain in combined profits in 2016 to $542.9 million from $524.9 million on a 4.3% advance in total revenue to $1.22 billion from $1.17 billion. License fee revenue was up 8.2% to $756.6 million from $699.3 million. Ad revenue dipped to $383.1 million from $384.7 million.

Pew said audience data for the three major business news networks were not available.