It pains the New York Times to admit it, but this Summer, Fox News is dominating prime time television:
In June and July, Fox News was the highest-rated television channel in the prime-time hours of 8 to 11 p.m. Not just on cable. Not just among news networks. All of television. The average live Fox News viewership in those hours outstripped cable rivals like CNN, MSNBC and ESPN, as well as the broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC, according to Nielsen.
That three-hour slot is a narrow but significant slice of TV real estate, and it is exceedingly rare for a basic-cable channel to outrank the Big Three broadcasters, which are available in more households and offer a wider variety of programming.
Even the return of live sports did little to stop the momentum: The Fox News programs hosted by Mr. Carlson and Sean Hannity drew more live viewers than competing baseball and basketball games, including a Yankees-Nationals matchup on Opening Day.
There are several things going on here. First, the decline of the broadcast networks. Not too many years ago, prime time was full of popular sitcoms, dramas, Westerns and cop shows. People knew their names and when they were on, and made a point of watching them. Those days are gone. Admittedly I am an extreme case, but I couldn’t name a single prime time, Monday to Friday show airing on CBS, NBC or ABC. Viewership has been split among a variety of cable networks, with outlets like Amazon Video and Netflix supplying higher-quality programs than the networks.
Second, the disappearance of sports. Sports were the original reality television, and they have become the most popular television programming. But with the major sports leagues shut down, that competition was missing. The return of baseball and basketball, as the Times noted, has produced disappointing ratings.
Third, note the limitation to prime time. The networks’ evening news programs still draw a surprising number of viewers:
The evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC are notching their biggest audiences in years. David Muir’s “World News Tonight” on ABC has been a standout: In July, its episodes were the top 18 telecasts across all of broadcast and cable television, drawing more viewers than usual summertime ratings leaders like NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
All three of the network newscasts, which air at 6:30 p.m., draw more viewers than Fox News’s prime-time shows, with Mr. Muir more than doubling Mr. Hannity’s average in July.
I have not seen a network news show in a decade or more, but my impression is that all three network news programs are liberal, although not as far left as CNN and MSNBC.
Despite the above qualifications, it is extraordinary that Fox News’s most popular shows are the most-watched on all of television in prime time. The Times, of course, treats that fact as an unaccountable mystery. Its casual and ignorant smears of Fox remind us why the news network is so indispensable.