All 124 Cable Channels Ranked by Average Viewership in 2021

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Another year, another Fox News Channel viewer victory (on cable). Fox News was the most-watched basic-cable channel (of 124) in 2021, averaging 2.361 million primetime viewers each evening, according to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day data set. That number was down a whopping 35% from the 2020 average, but that’s what happens when you turn the calendar page over from an election year. Just ask the other guys: MSNBC, this year’s No. 3 channel, declined 28% and No. 4 CNN sank 39%.

ESPN (1.658 million, up 14%) welcomed live sports back in 2021, jumping from last year’s fourth-place cable channel in primetime to No. 2 this time around. The Top 4 channels are again cable’s main news and sports channels, the genres that live viewing favors.

TNT (No. 6) and TBS (No. 7) also benefited from the return of live sports — (basketball and baseball, respectively), and along with fourth-quarter giant Hallmark Channel (No. 8), leapfrogged TLC (No. 6 last year, now No. 9). This year’s Top 10 was comprised of the same channels as last year’s — just in a slightly different order.

No. 11 USA Network improved its standing, while Food Network declined. A&E, now without hit series “Live PD,” tumbled from 14th place to 19th place.

NBCU’s Bravo fell from 17th to 20th, while INSP, the religious-programming-turned-Western-programming cable channel recently profiled in this weekly ratings column, jumped from 16th to 12th. Lower down the list, the AMC Networks-owned weTV rose from 28th to 23rd.

But we know what you’re really here for: Did Comedy.TV finish in last place again? The answer: No! It toppled beIN Sports, the year’s new biggest loser.

Find last year’s rankings, which ranked 119 Nielsen-rated basic-cable channels, here.

The 2021 list is below, with viewer tallies in thousands (000). Nielsen counts anyone age 2 and older in its “total viewers” (P2+) data set. The numbers in this story are Calendar 2021 through Dec. 13, 2021.

1

FOX NEWS CHANNEL

2,361

2

ESPN

1,658

3

MSNBC

1,547

4

CNN

1,097

5

HOME AND GARDEN TV

1,089

6

TURNER NETWORK TELEVISION

1,020

7

TBS NETWORK

998

8

HALLMARK CHANNEL

973

9

TLC

824

10

HISTORY

780

11

USA NETWORK

764

12

DISCOVERY CHANNEL

754

12

INSP

754

14

FOOD NETWORK

710

15

INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY

587

16

LIFETIME TELEVISION

560

17

HALLMARK MOVIES & MYSTERIES

513

18

TV LAND

512

19

A&E NETWORK

496

20

BRAVO

487

21

FX

452

22

AMC

450

23

WETV

402

24

GSN

393

25

FREEFORM

391

26

SYFY

390

27

PARAMOUNT

389

28

ADULT SWIM

379

29

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

375

30

NICK-AT-NITE

350

31

ANIMAL PLANET

329

32

BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TV

328

33

TRAVEL CHANNEL

322

34

ESPN2

303

35

MTV

292

36

COMEDY CENTRAL

291

37

FOX SPORTS 1

284

38

NFL NETWORK

280

39

NBC SPORTS NETWORK

274

39

OXYGEN MEDIA

274

41

E!

264

42

DISNEY JUNIOR

253

43

CMT

232

44

HLN

231

45

LIFETIME MOVIE NETWORK

227

46

DISNEY CHANNEL

226

47

NICK JR

225

48

VH1

220

49

SCIENCE

212

50

SUNDANCE TV

209

51

CNBC

206

52

NAT GEO WILD

204

53

OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

202

54

FETV

199

55

BBC-AMERICA

197

56

HBO PRIME

196

57

IFC TV

195

58

MOTOR TREND

194

59

FXX

191

60

NEWSMAX TV

186

61

TRUTV

185

62

THE WEATHER CHANNEL

176

63

TUDN

174

64

THE CARTOON NETWORK

173

65

DIY NETWORK

168

66

POP

154

67

COOKING CHANNEL

116

68

REELZCHANNEL

111

68

UP

111

70

MLB NETWORK

107

71

GOLF CHANNEL

106

72

GALAVISION

105

73

HALLMARK DRAMA

101

73

TV ONE

101

75

SMITHSONIAN

100

76

SHOWTIME PRIME

95

77

FX MOVIE CHANNEL

88

78

FYI

84

79

NBA-TV

83

80

DISNEY XD

80

81

BOOMERANG

76

82

VICE

74

83

AMERICAN HEROES CHANNEL

71

84

UNIVERSO

67

85

NICKTOONS

66

86

DESTINATION AMERICA

63

87

GAC FAMILY

61

88

OVATION

60

89

BIG TEN NETWORK

59

90

STARZ PRIMARY

58

91

DISCOVERY EN ESPANOL

56

92

RFD-TV

55

92

STARZ ENCORE PRIMARY

55

94

ESPNU

54

95

FOX BUSINESS NETWORK

51

95

MTV2

51

97

TENNIS CHANNEL

50

98

FOX DEPORTES

44

99

AXS TV

43

100

DISCOVERY FAMILY CHANNEL

41

101

LOGO

40

102

NEWSNATION

39

103

TEENNICK

35

104

BET HER

34

104

UNIVERSAL KIDS

34

106

DISCOVERY FAMILIA

33

106

DISCOVERY LIFE CHANNEL

33

108

MAXPRIME

27

109

ESPN DEPORTES

26

110

OLYMPIC CHANNEL

23

110

THE COWBOY CHANNEL

23

112

BABY FIRST TV

21

112

FOX SPORTS 2

21

114

CNN EN ESPANOL

15

115

FUSE

13

115

JUSTICE CENTRAL

13

117

CLEO TV

8

117

PURSUIT CHANNEL

8

119

ACCUWEATHER

7

120

BEIN SPORT ESPANOL

6

120

NEWSY

6

122

BLACK NEWS CHANNEL

4

122

COMEDY.TV

4

124

BEIN SPORT

3

Fox News Channel was also No. 1 in terms of total-day (6 a.m. to 6 a.m.) viewers, marking the sixth straight year the conservative-leaning news channel topped all of cable in both primetime and the 24-hour day. The rest of the Top 10 in all-day programming were, in order: MSNBC, CNN, ESPN, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, ID, Food Network, TNT and INSP.

In terms of adults 18-49, here’s how the Top 10 stacks up in primetime:

  1. ESPN

  2. TNT

  3. TBS

  4. USA Network

  5. Fox News Channel

  6. Food Network

  7. Adult Swim

  8. TLC

  9. HGTV

  10. CNN/Discovery Channel (tie)

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