By Rick Kissell
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - In a generally overall down year for the cable news genre, Fox News remained the dominant ratings force in 2014, while CNN made some meaningful demo strides relative to a sagging MSNBC.
Behind the highest-rated programs in cable news -- including "The O'Reilly Factor," which was again top dog among all programs -- Fox News finished on top in both total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demo for a 13th straight year, according to Nielsen's "most current" estimates through Dec. 26.
Fox News was also the only cable newser up in the demo in primetime, as it opened up bigger advantages over the runner-up network in both 25-54 and total viewers.
MSNBC was down across the board, including declines in the demo of nearly 20%, and its prexy Phil Griffin vowed to make changes in 2015.
And while CNN fell off by 8% in overall primetime viewership, it held steady year-to-year in adults 25-54 and moved up to second in numerous dayparts. In both total viewers and the key demo, it finished ahead of MSNBC for the first time in three years.
Combined, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC averaged 1.8 million viewers total-day (down 5% from 2013) and 2.85 million in primetime (down 4%). Among adults 25-54, they were down 8% in total-day and 5% in primetime.
(While these declines aren't horrible, the genre as a whole took a bigger hit if you included Headline News, which was down 16% in primetime vs. last year).
The most meaningful change from a ranking standpoint in 2014 was CNN leap-frogging MSNBC in the demo during primetime (187,000 vs. 174,000), with the former flat and the latter down 17%. MSNBC saw both "The Rachel Maddow Show" and "The Lawrence O'Donnell Show" deliver all-time lows, while CNN's 10 p.m. hour (primarily "CNN Tonight") also hit some lows.
The general downward trend in traditional viewership of the cable news networks in recent years has contributed to some record or lowest-in-year performances -- which, of course, each network's rivals were more than happy to point out.
CNN posted its all-time low primetime average in total viewers as well as its lowest-ever total-day tune-in among adults 25-54. MSNBC hit a nine-year low in total viewers and a seven-year low in the demo in total day, while in primetime it hit its lowest 2+ delivery since 2007 and its lowest demo delivery since 2006. Fox News saw its smallest total-day delivery among adults 25-54 since 2001, and its smallest primetime total-viewer count since 2008.
On the other hand, here are some of the positive takeaways from 2014:
Fox News: The network had the top five programs in cable news in both total viewers and adults 25-54. In total viewers, "O'Reilly Factor" (2.667 million) was followed by "The Kelly File" (2.204 million), "The Five" (2.057 million), "Special Report with Bret Baier" (1.985 million) and "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" (1.749 million). And in the demo, "O'Reilly" (426,000) was followed by "Kelly File" (374,000), "The Five" (324,000), "Hannity" (311,000) and "Special Report" (303,000).
In primetime for the year, Fox News ranked second in total viewers (behind only ESPN) among all ad-supported basic cable networks.
And among all cablers in total viewers, Fox News Channel was the most-watched network from 9 to 11 a.m. ET ("America's Newsroom"), 5-6 p.m. ET ("The Five"), 6-7 p.m. ET ("Special Report with Bret Baier") and 8-9 p.m. ET ("The O'Reilly Factor").
"O'Reilly Factor" marked its 15th consecutive year as the No. 1 cable news program in its timeslot in both adults 25-54 and total viewers, and it's the No. 1 show in cable news for a 14th straight year in the demo and 13th straight in total viewers.
And in its first full year, the Megyn Kelly-hosted "Kelly File" stood as the only primetime program in cable news up in its timeslot (9-10 p.m. ET) vs. last year in both total viewers (10%) and the 25-54 demo (5%).
CNN: "New Day" tied with HLN's "Morning Express with Robin Meade" in adults 25-54 (104,000) to edge ahead of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (100,000), marking the first second-place demo finish in the time period for CNN since 2008.
CNN opened up some distance on MSNBC in dayside programming (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), winning by 37% in total viewers (491,000 vs. 359,000) and by a big 83% in 25-54 (121,000 vs. 66,000).
Thanks to an increased emphasis on original series, CNN was able to shave its median age in primetime by 2 years (to 58), making it younger than both Fox News (68) and MSNBC (61) for the first time. This was in part due to more time-shifted viewing, as CNN Original Series posted gains from "live" to "live +7" of 52% in adults 25-54 (291,000 vs. 191,000).
MSNBC: The network drew more total viewers than CNN in primetime for a fifth straight year, with both "The Rachel Maddow Show" (again the network's No. 1 show) and "Hardball with Chris Matthews" beating CNN in total viewers every month of the year.
MSNBC continues to attract the most diverse audience in cable news, ranking No. 1 among cable news networks in Hispanic viewers 25-54 during weekday primetime. Among African-Americans, MSNBC says it draws twice as many viewers as CNN and more than seven times as many than Fox News.
NETWORK AVERAGES (in millions)
Adults 25-54 Fox News 309,000 (up 2%) CNN 187,000 (even) MSNBC 174,000 (down 17%) HLN 118,000 (down 16%)
Total Viewers Fox News 1.779 million (even) MSNBC 600,000 (down 8%) CNN 528,000 (down 8%) HLN 337,000 (down 16%)
Adults 25-54 Fox News 216,000 (down 4%) CNN 127,000 (down 4%) MSNBC 110,000 (down 17%) HLN 106,000 (down 6%)
Total Viewers Fox News 1.058 million (down 4%) CNN 402,000 (down 3%) MSNBC 350,000 (down 12%) HLN 259,000 (down 13%)
Source: Nielsen ("most current": Dec. 30, 2013-Dec. 26, 2014)