With President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey as the week's big story, MSNBC had one of its best ratings weeks in memory — perhaps an ominous sign for troubled Fox News Channel.
MSNBC topped Fox among the 25-to-54-year-old age demographic for the first time since the week of Dec. 29, 2008, just after Barack Obama's first election, the Nielsen company said. Although the majority of cable news viewers are older than that, the demographic takes on outsize importance because advertisers pay a premium for the younger viewers.
Fox won the week when everyone is counted, with 2.6 million viewers on the weekdays. But MSNBC has crept much closer, finishing with 2.39 million viewers with the help of a prime-time lineup led by Rachel Maddow. CNN had 1.32 million viewers last week, Nielsen said.
It's a time of opportunity for rivals of Fox News, long the dominant cable news network, because of last month's firing of Bill O'Reilly, Fox's most popular personality, who lost his job after it was revealed the network was paying millions of dollars in settlements to women who charged him with harassment. O'Reilly has denied the charges, saying he was the victim of a determined liberal campaign. Tucker Carlson leads Fox's new prime-time lineup.
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Between 2008 and 2016, Fox News beat MSNBC by an average of 1.42 million viewers each week — and last week the margin sunk to just over 200,000.
With the exception of two weeks won by MSNBC during the Democratic conventions in 2016 and 2012 — when Fox's predominantly conservative audience found reasons to be away from the TV — the closest MSNBC had been to Fox in total viewers was losing by a margin of 178,000 viewers in April 2001, Nielsen said. CNN has beaten Fox in total viewers six times over the past two years.