State of the News Media 2015
Cable News: Fact Sheet
Last updated April 30, 2015 to include new digital analyses provided by comScore.
The core cable news audience continues to shrink, while revenues are largely moving in a positive direction and profit margins add up to double digits. Ultimately, the health of 24-hour news channels may be dictated more by the disruption of the pay TV model than by the incremental dwindling of its audience.
By almost every measure, fewer people tuned in to watch cable news in 2014.
The total median viewership over a 24-hour period for Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC combined dropped 7% in 2014 to 1.8 million, according to Pew Research Center analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That marked the first such audience decline by that measure since 2010. MSNBC fared the worst, with a 14% decline to a median of 334,000 viewers. Fox was down 2% to 1.1 million viewers and CNN up 1% to 417,000.
In prime time – the premier time slot for advertisers – combined median viewership was down for these three news channels by 8% to 2.8 million. Fox News remained relatively steady, losing only 1% of its viewership with 1.7 million watching nightly. But CNN (down 9% to 495,000 viewers) and MSNBC (down 8% to 568,000) struggled.
Between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., median viewership for the three channels combined dropped 5% to 1.9 million. Once again, MSNBC stood out for its audience decline, losing fully 18% of its viewership and ending the year with a median of 291,000 viewers during the day. CNN was flat at 453,000 viewers, and Fox experienced a small decline of 3%, leaving it with 1.1 million daytime viewers in 2014.
For the three main news channels combined (Fox, CNN and MSNBC), total revenues were projected to increase by a modest 4% in 2014, to a total of $3.7 billion, according to Pew Research analysis of SNL Kagan data.
Fox News was projected to experience higher revenue growth (up 6% to $2.04 billion) than that of CNN (3% to $1.13 billion) or MSNBC (down 1% to $501 million).
Cable channels draw revenue from two main sources – advertising and subscriber (affiliate) fees, which come out of consumers’ monthly cable bills. Fox was projected to grow its subscriber-fee revenue by 7% to $1.2 billion in 2014, compared with CNN’s 2% growth to $710 million and MSNBC’s 3% growth to $274 million.
In advertising, CNN was projected to experience the strongest rate of growth, up 6% to $339 million (compared with Fox’s 2% growth to $794 million and MSNBC’s projected decline of 5% to $221 million).
Of the three main news channels, only Fox News was projected to grow its profits in 2014 (up 10% to $1.2 billion). CNN was projected to experience a 5% decline in profit to $327 million, and MSNBC was projected to decline by 8% to $206 million. Still, all three channels continued to enjoy double-digit profit margins: 61% at Fox, 41% at MSNBC and 29% at CNN.
Among the news channels that occupy a smaller niche than Fox, CNN and MSNBC, the three financial news outlets were each projected to have grown in revenue in 2014: Fox Business Network with 17% growth to $205 million; CNBC with 5% growth to $702 million; and Bloomberg TV with 7% growth to $191 million.
On the other hand, amid weak ratings the relatively new Al Jazeera America was projected to decline in revenue 2%, to $93 million.
Despite flagging audiences, none of the three main cable news channels were expected to cut back on their news operations in 2014 (though a reallocation of resources at Turner Broadcasting resulted in layoffs at CNN, which accompanied the promise of more investment in digital and original programming).
Overall, newsroom spending was projected to increase by 4% to $1.9 billion for the three main news channels combined, according to Pew Research analysis of SNL Kagan data.
CNN was projected to increase its spending the most (7% to $805 million) followed by MSNBC, up 5% to $296 million. Fox was projected to remain steady at $803 million.
CNN remains the leader in terms of the sheer number of bureaus it operates around the world and domestically: As of September 2014, the organization listed 33 “editorial operations” internationally and 11 domestically. According to information provided to Pew Research by the networks, that compares to four foreign and 11 domestic bureaus operated by Fox, and 11 foreign and nine domestic bureaus operated by NBC News, whose resources are shared with MSBNC (NBC also lists 10 international locations in which it has a presence, though no bureau).
In the digital space, both CNN and Fox News command far more audience than MSNBC, according to Pew Research Center analysis of comScore data.
The exact measures get complicated due to how news entities organize their data. Web traffic data taken from a sample month, January 2015 (including desktop, mobile and apps), shows the total digital traffic for FoxNews.com at about 55 million unique visitors. In the same month, CNN’s total digital traffic amounted to around 64 million unique visitors and MSNBC’s roughly 7 million.
All three of these are a part of larger digital networks. For example, MSNBC.com sits within the broader NBC News family (NBCNews.com drew about 30 million unique visitors in January 2015). (Read here for more information about digital audience trends in news.)