The three cable news networks have been a popular destination with viewers in recent years, especially MSNBC. Analyzing ad intel from Standard Media Index confirms their popularity with marketers.
Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are all destination networks for ongoing and late-breaking news, but their 2019 success with advertisers vary considerably. According to ad spending data from Standard Media Index (SMI), in 2019, MSNBC had the strongest year with average unit cost across all weekday daytime dayparts and total day reporting year-to-year percent double-digit gains. MSNBC’s ratings and average unit cost upward trend began in 2016 and has not slowed down. In 2019 MSNBC ranked second in cable network ratings in prime time, compared to 12th in 2016. As a result, in a first, SMI reports that MSNBC, in 2019, surpassed CNN in average unit cost in two additional dayparts, daytime M-F 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and primetime M-F 7 p.m.-12 a.m. (they had surpassed CNN in early morning in 2017).
MSNBC: In analyzing SMI data, the M-F 6 a.m.-9 a.m. time period (Morning Joe), the average ad unit has been steadily increasing. For example, when compared to 2018, the average unit cost grew by 11%. Since 2016, however, the average unit cost for the three-hour program has doubled from $1,352 in 2016 to $2,714 in 2019. In daytime, the year-to-year growth in average ad unit costs grew by 34% compared to 2018 and increased by a staggering 151% from 2016.
In early fringe (M-F 4 p.m.-7 p.m.), the trend continued, the year-to-year average unit cost rose by 26% and an impressive +114% from 2016. Similarly, in prime time, the average unit cost was +29% from 2018 and +129% from 2016. For total day, MSNBC’s average unit cost in 2019 reported a year-to-year increase of 19% and grew by 87% from 2016.
Fox News: Fox News has been the top-rated cable network in prime time for the fourth straight year and broadcast day for the third straight year. Per SMI, in 2019 Fox News continues to have the highest average unit cost across all dayparts for news networks, although the network, when compared to MSNBC, reported a less robust year-to-year growth in 2019.
In early morning, the average unit cost in 2019 for Fox & Friends reported a year-to-year increase of 6% and +47% compared to 2016. In daytime, the average unit rate increased by 4% from 2018 and +33% from 2016. With early fringe, the average unit rate was +9% from 2018 and +40% from 2016. In primetime, despite its popularity, the average unit rate of $8,450 dropped by 6% from 2018 and was even -2% from 2016 cost of $8,619. One reason for the drop-off may have been the pressure placed by “watchdog” groups targeting marketers to boycott certain programs on Fox News because of comments made by on-air talent. In total day, the average unit cost grew by 3% from 2018 and +24% from 2016.
CNN: As CNN begins its fortieth year, it averages fewer viewers than Fox News and MSNBC, however, due to its longevity with advertisers, SMI reports with CNN is more competitive with average unit cost, but there was lacklustre growth in 2019. In early morning, the average unit cost in 2019 for New Day dropped by 4% from 2018, and +6% from 2016. In daytime, the average unit cost of $2,820 grew by 6% from 2018 ($2,650) and +24% from 2016 of $2,215. In early fringe, the average unit cost grew by 8% compared to 2018 and +25% from 2016. In primetime, CNN’s average unit cost grew by only 2% from 2018 and +23% from 2016. For total day, average unit rate grew by just 1% from 2018 and +16% from 2016.
Although 2019, was an “off-year” for political elections, there were enough events to draw viewers (and hence, advertisers), to their preferred news network. By copying the Fox News strategy, in which the on-air personalities are the stars of the network (and not the news), MSNBC’s ratings and subsequent success in increasing average unit costs, has been driven by programs anchored by Joe Scarborough in early morning, Nicole Wallace in early fringe and Rachel Maddow in prime time. Viewers turn to them even when there is an occasional “slow” news day, sustaining a strong audience base.