Trump catapults cable news outlets to their best ratings year ever

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President-elect Donald Trump.
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump’s dramatic candidacy catapulted the three cable news networks to their best year ever, with each outlet experiencing record-breaking numbers, according to year-end ratings from Nielsen Media Research.

Fox News fared the best in 2016, not only beating its rival cable news networks, but also finishing the year as the most-watched basic cable network – in both primetime and total day – for the first time in its 20-year history.

In primetime, Fox News averaged 2.4 million viewers in 2016, making it the fifth-most-watched primetime network in all of television, behind only the big three networks and Fox.

CNN also saw a boon in ratings. 2016 proved to be the channel’s most-watched year among total viewers.

In primetime, CNN placed eighth with an average of 1.3 million viewers, its highest ranking since 1995.

And while MSNBC finished behind both CNN and Fox, it experienced significant growth, outpacing its rival networks in total-day gains. 2016 was also its most-watched year.

While ratings for cable news networks always increase during election years, the jolt each outlet received in 2016 was undoubtedly a direct result of Trump’s bombastic candidacy.

The president-elect’s outlandish style – mixed with his unpredictable personality – made campaign events, interviews, and debates must-watch television.

“Trump deserves ALL the credit for this banner year in cable news. Period,” said Erik Wemple, a media columnist at The Washington Post. “Any cable news executive who insists otherwise risks eternal embarrassment.”

Joe Concha, a media columnist at The Hill, agreed, though he said Trump didn’t “deserve all the credit” and suggested the “highly polarized country” also played “perfectly into the cable news model.”

“Those who were loyal watched every rally, hung on every tweet, watched every cable news segment debate. Those who loathe him watched every rally, hung on every tweet, watched every cable news segment debate,” Concha said.

It’s an incidental twist. While Trump regularly attacked the media in 2016, characterizing members of the press as “dishonest” people who are the “scum” of the earth, his candidacy – and likely his presidency – financially helped each of the cable news outlets.

Or as Jim Rutenberg, a New York Times media columnist, put it in a recent column, “As Mr. Trump tries to burn the media village down, he may just be saving it.”