In a year that featured a number of prominent news stories — a presidential campaign upended by Donald Trump, civic unrest in Baltimore, Pope Francis’s visit to the United States and deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. — the number of people tuning in to the top 24-hour cable news channels went up, according to Nielsen.
Fox News once again dominated the competition in 2015, while CNN had significantly improved ratings and MSNBC had a slight bounce in viewers.
For the 14th consecutive year, Fox News led in total viewers and in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic crucial to advertisers. The network’s average of 1.8 million viewers in prime time placed it second among all cable channels, the highest finish for a cable news channel ever. (ESPN came in first.)
It also certainly helped that the Republican presidential debates, featuring Mr. Trump front and center, broke records. In August, when Fox News broadcast the first Republican debate, it drew 24 million viewers, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations and shattering the record for most widely viewed nonsports event in cable history.
CNN had three debates, which also ranked among the highest-rated nonsports cable events ever: two Republican debates with 23 million and 18 million viewers and a Democratic debate with more than 15 million.
The cable news channels, however, still tend to skew older: The median age for CNN viewers this year was 61, while it was 63 for MSNBC and 67 for Fox News. [emphasis added]