Fox News flipped the Election Night Nielsen race, moving from a close second in 2016 to easily the most watched TV network in prime time as the 2020 results came in. While Twitter obsessed (rightfully) about Steve Kornacki and yelled at CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Nielsen says FNC crushed all rivals, scoring an average audience of 13.6 million viewers between 8 and 11 p.m. ET Tuesday, up from its 2016 audience (12.1 million) and comfortably ahead of second-place CNN (9.1 million). MSNBC (7.3 million) finished third, which means that, for the first time ever, all three major broadcast networks were beaten by cable outlets.
Indeed, all the Big Three broadcasters suffered significant erosion compared to 2016. ABC, with an average prime-time audience of 6.1 million viewers, can brag that it beat rivals NBC (5.6 million) and CBS (4.3 million). The Alphabet network still drew one-third fewer viewers than four years ago (9.2 million), though that was better than NBC and CBS, which attracted half their 2016 audiences (11.2 million and 8.1 million, respectively). The good news for NBC? MSNBC did notably better than in 2016, when the cable network had 5.9 million in prime time. CNN was the only cable network to lose viewership compared to four years ago: In 2016, the WarnerMedia-owned outlet notched a best-ever 13.3 million viewers, at the time the most ever for a cable news network. FNC now holds that record.
Nielsen will issue a report later today on overall Election Night viewership, and it will likely show a smaller prime-time audience for major broadcast and cable coverage than in 2016, when 71 million tuned in to see Donald Trump win the presidency. Nielsen numbers don’t track most digital/streaming viewership, though, nor does Nielsen account for how many people were nervously scrolling through Twitter last night. However, multiple TV news outlets on Wednesday reported shattering digital tune-in records, indicating that some of the audience that once watched on TV instead watched the results on streaming platforms.