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Sean Hannity
Sean Hannity | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

It’s hard to discuss cable-news viewership without Fox News ratings entering the conversation. Before long, you’ll hear how the network is the most watched on cable, about its hold on news audiences, and how influential it is with the president (himself a frequent TV watcher).

In fact, when MSNBC managed to top Fox News in the ratings late in 2018, it became a story in its own right. The network boasted how it posted its best performance against Fox in nearly two decades, with Rachel Maddow leading the charge.

But it can be revealing to learn just how many viewers watch these networks get on a nightly basis — and how they compare to legacy stations like NBC, ABC, and CBS. Once you dig into the numbers, the amount of people actually watching Fox News on a nightly basis might sound small.

Matched against news broadcasts by the top networks, the numbers seem even smaller. Broken down by age segments, the majority of viewers will also seem quite old.

Fox News primetime viewers amount to less than 1% of the population.

If you read through the Fox News press release about its 2018 ratings wins, you could get the impression of total domination. You’ll learn Fox had its “highest-rated year” and finished the year as the “most-watched basic cable network.” Both sound like big wins, and they are if you are in the cable TV business.

Digging into the raw numbers, you might wonder what else is happening on TV, and where the people are. After all, Fox won the race averaging 2.5 million total viewers in prime time and peaking at 3.3 million viewers during Sean Hannity’s show. Those figures range from 1% of the U.S. population watching Hannity to far fewer watching Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham.

If you multiplied the numbers by five shows per week and 20 shows per month, the figures become huge. However, you’d be counting the same viewers so many times they wouldn’t be accurate. Generally, folks who want to hear about the War on Christmas and other curiosities on Fox News are dedicated viewers.

They’re also of a certain age. Of those 3.3 million Hannity viewers, a paltry 643,000 landed in the 25-54 age group. Tucker (557,000) and Ingraham (515,000) also posted small shares of young-to-middle-aged adults. Older Americans are by far the biggest group taking in these broadcasts.

ABC News averages 3 times the viewers of Fox News in prime time.

Tucker Carlson speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center on October 21, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. | Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon

With Fox News’s blind dedication to all things GOP and Trump, it can often seem like it’s Fox against the rest of the news industry. However, in terms of raw numbers, it’s really Fox pitted against MSNBC and CNN (which have more combined viewers). Compared to the major broadcast networks (the old Big Three), there’s no real contest.

In the third quarter of 2018, ABC World News Tonight averaged over 8 million viewers, or more than three times the number of viewers taking in Fox News during prime time. NBC Nightly News (7.5 million viewers in Q3) also tripled the audiences measured by Nielsen.

CBS Evening News, by far the lowest-rated broadcast of the bunch, still managed to double the average of Fox News in prime time with 5.6 million viewers.

In the 25-54 age group, NBC (1.85 million) and ABC (1.77 million) evening news programs both tripled audiences in that demographic watching Hannity, Tucker, and Ingraham on a nightly basis.

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