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Cable News Fact Sheet
Cable TV is home to a set of television channels whose news broadcasts have become an important information source for many Americans. In 2020, a year that included both a global pandemic and a U.S. presidential election, both evening and daytime cable news audiences increased for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC). Financially, these cable news channels have set themselves apart from other news media with their comparatively robust business model. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about cable news below.
According to Comscore TV Essentials® data, viewership increased for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) in 2020. The average audience (defined as the average number of TVs tuned to a program throughout a time period) for the prime news time slot (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) increased by 61% for Fox News in 2020, to about 3.08 million compared with 1.92 million in 2019. Similarly, CNN’s audience increased from 1.05 million in 2019 to 1.80 million in 2020, a 72% increase. MSNBC’s audience jumped 28% in 2020, rising from 1.3 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2020.
Newsmax, a relatively smaller cable news channel that gained prominence during the 2020 election, had an average audience of 115,000 in 2020, the first year for which we have data.
For the daytime news time slot (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), all three of the major cable news channels saw marked increases in their average audience in 2020.
Average audience for cable TV news: Prime news
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
Average audience for cable TV news: Daytime news
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
Total revenue for the three major cable news channels increased modestly in 2020 (to $1.7 billion for CNN, $2.9 billion for Fox News and $1.1 billion for MSNBC), according to estimates from Kagan, a media research group in S&P Global Market Intelligence, with each seeing a 3%-5% increase in revenue. License (affiliate) fees, one of two main sources of revenue for the major cable channels, declined slightly in 2020 for all three – down roughly 1%-3% across all. Advertising revenue, these channels’ other main source of revenue, increased in 2020 for all three, with advertising revenue increasing anywhere from 9%-12%.
In 2020, Newsmax made $26 million in revenue, virtually all of which came from advertising (in 2020, the first year we have data available, Newsmax had zero license fee revenue).
Total revenue for cable TV
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
Advertising revenue for cable TV
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
License fee revenue for cable TV (Fox News, CNN and MSNBC)
Total annual license fee revenue (in U.S.dollars)
1 B
2 B
3 B
4 B
Note: Numbers are estimates and projections prepared by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, and often are revised annually, even for previous years. Displayed numbers indicate most recent updates. Beginning in 2017, Kagan's network economics methodology accounts for subscribers and revenue from virtual multichannel services.
Source: Estimates and projections by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all saw their profit increase in 2020, each growing roughly 6%-7% from the previous year. Newsmax lost $1.5 million in 2020, the first year for which we have data for this outlet.
Total profit for cable TV
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
Newsroom investment
Total newsroom spending by the three major cable channels was fairly flat in 2020. CNN’s expenses remained largely unchanged in 2020, while Fox News saw its expenses decline 4% and MSNBC saw its expenses increase 3%. In 2020, Newsmax spent $28 million on newsroom expenditures, the first year data for this outlet was available.
Newsroom spending for cable TV
Fox News, CNN, MSNBC
About 2,700 employees worked as reporters, editors, photographers, and camera operators and editors in cable TV newsrooms in 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. This is on par with 2017, when there were about 2,900 news employees.
Employment in cable TV newsrooms
The median wage for editors was about $66,000 per year in 2020, followed by camera operators and editors at about $63,000 and photographers at about $43,000. Since 2018, wage data for reporters in the cable industry has not been available.
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This fact sheet was compiled by Research Analyst Mason Walker.and Research Assistant Naomi Forman-Katz.
Read the methodology.
Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
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