2020 Election Coverage Viewership Drops To 56.9 Million, Fox News Sets Cable News Ratings Record

Nellie Andreeva
·4 min read

2nd UPDATE 3:20 PM: While the voter turnout at the 2020 Presidential election was the largest ever, the viewer turnout for the results from the election on Tuesday night was not that great overall.

An estimated 56.9 million people watched Election 2020 coverage during primetime across 21 networks, with out-of-home viewing as well as connected TV viewing included in the total, with CTVs contributing as much as 11%.

The 56.9 million total was down from the 71 million viewers who tuned in to the 13 networks that covered live the election results in primetime on Nov. 8 2016. Some 66.8 million viewers watched live coverage of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory over Mitt Romney on over 13 networks from 8-11 PM on November 6, 2012.

While overall viewership was down, Fox News Channel’s 2020 viewership set a new high.

Fox News’ primetime coverage of Election Night 2020 topped all television networks and set a record for the most-watched Election Night coverage in cable news history. FNC’s primetime coverage averaged 13.7 million total viewers and nearly 5 million in the 25-54 demographic, beating ABC, NBC, CBS and all cable news networks in both.

CNN (9.1 million) was second for the night in viewership, followed by MSNBC (7.3 million), ABC (6.1 million) and NBC (5.6 million).

The ranking reflects the current dominance of the cable news networks over political coverage. Four years ago, NBC was the most-watched network on Election Night (12.1 million viewers), followed by Fox News (11.5 million).

This is the first time in 12 years that ABC was the most watched broadcast network on election night.

Co-anchored by Special Report’s Bret Baier and The Story’s Martha MacCallum (6 p.m.-3 a.m. ET), FNC’s special presentation from 6 p.m.-4 a.m. ET delivered 10.5 million viewers and 3.9 million in the 25-54 demo, topping all networks in total viewers and the demo. Additionally, FNC also was the most-watched cable news network in the 18-49 demographic with 4.1 million viewers during primetime (8-11 p.m. ET) and 3.2 million viewers from 6 p.m.-3 a.m. ET. During last night’s coverage, FNC’s telecast was up in primetime in both categories versus 2016 election programming (up 12% in viewers and up 6% in 25-54 demo), while CNN was off. During total day, FNC also was No. 1, averaging 5.7 million viewers and 1.9 in the 25-54 demo for the duration of Election Day coverage.

P2+

P25-54

Network

P2+ AA (000)

A25-54 AA (000)

share

share

FNC

13,638

4,901

27%

24%

CNN

9,084

4,444

18%

22%

MSNBC

7,310

2,381

15%

12%

ABC

6,095

2,283

12%

11%

CBS

4,344

1,663

9%

8%

NBC

5,633

2,510

11%

13%

FOX

3,278

1,608

7%

8%

FBN

647

193

1%

1%

PREVIOUSLY: ABC and NBC are leading preliminary Election Night broadcast ratings. The networks ranked as No.1 in the non time zone-adjusted fast nationals among total viewers (ABC) and adults 18-49 (NBC). Because the election night coverage was live coast-to-coast and spilled into late-night and early Wednesday morning, the primetime fast nationals represent just a snapshot of the election night ratings performance. A fuller picture is expected later today, including numbers for cable news networks, which have emerged as a dominant ratings force in political coverage.

A dominant ratings performance of ABC World News Tonight this year may have carried over to election night, with ABC eying a first viewership crown in a long time. But, like the election results themselves, the ratings race may be too close to call, with ABC leading by a small margin, 5.9 million vs. 5.7 million viewers in the non time zone-adjusted fast nationals. NBC’s lead in the adults 18-49 demo is 1.7 rating vs. 1.5 for ABC. The other two networks followed, CBS (4.4 million, 1.1) and Fox (3.7, 1.2), which tapped into Fox News coverage.

NBC has traditionally won the election night broadcast viewership battle; it topped ABC, CBS and Fox in 2016 and 2012, with ABC finishing second both times. The order of the networks in the fast nationals has stayed the same when final numbers are released.

Election Day 2020: Deadline’s Complete Coverage

In 2016, the ratings results were reported using metered market numbers, which are time adjusted. But last year, Nielsen changed its methodology, so comparisons are impossible. Broadcast linear ratings have been consistently eroding over the past decade, and on Election Night 2016, all four major broadcast networks posted declines vs. 2012. However, the 2020 election has seen a huge turnout, which could translate into more eyeballs following the results.

We will update the story as more ratings data comes in.’

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