MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA

Cable TV is home to a set of television channels whose news broadcasts have become an important information source for many Americans. In 2020, a year that included both a global pandemic and a U.S. presidential election, both evening and daytime cable news audiences increased for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC). Financially, these cable news channels have set themselves apart from other news media with their comparatively robust business model. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about cable news below.

Audience

According to Comscore TV Essentials® data, viewership increased for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) in 2020. The average audience (defined as the average number of TVs tuned to a program throughout a time period) for the prime news time slot (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) increased by 61% for Fox News in 2020, to about 3.08 million compared with 1.92 million in 2019. Similarly, CNN’s audience increased from 1.05 million in 2019 to 1.80 million in 2020, a 72% increase. MSNBC’s audience jumped 28% in 2020, rising from 1.3 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2020.

Newsmax, a relatively smaller cable news channel that gained prominence during the 2020 election, had an average audience of 115,000 in 2020, the first year for which we have data.

For the daytime news time slot (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), all three of the major cable news channels saw marked increases in their average audience in 2020.

Average audience for cable TV news: Prime news

 

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2016 1,347,499 1,881,928 975,885
2017 989,398 1,465,800 1,077,559
2018 982,638 1,619,589 1,222,458
2019 1,051,061 1,919,173 1,251,094
2020 1,803,782 3,082,961 1,597,577

Pew Research Center

 

Year Newsmax
2020 115,118

Pew Research Center

Average audience for cable TV news: Daytime news

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2016 700,662 1,146,520 529,723
2017 679,947 1,090,430 569,357
2018 664,434 1,100,619 672,817
2019 687,418 1,253,005 765,725
2020 1,193,975 1,758,964 1,051,594

Pew Research Center

 

Year Newsmax
2020 88,637

Pew Research Center

Economics

Total revenue for the three major cable news channels increased modestly in 2020 (to $1.7 billion for CNN, $2.9 billion for Fox News and $1.1 billion for MSNBC), according to estimates from Kagan, a media research group in S&P Global Market Intelligence, with each seeing a 3%-5% increase in revenue. License (affiliate) fees, one of two main sources of revenue for the major cable channels, declined slightly in 2020 for all three – down roughly 1%-3% across all. Advertising revenue, these channels’ other main source of revenue, increased in 2020 for all three, with advertising revenue increasing anywhere from 9%-12%.

In 2020, Newsmax made $26 million in revenue, virtually all of which came from advertising (in 2020, the first year we have data available, Newsmax had zero license fee revenue).

Total revenue for cable TV

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2006 822,600,000 688,100,000 270,700,000
2007 881,300,000 825,800,000 301,400,000
2008 1,026,800,000 1,084,700,000 366,600,000
2009 1,001,800,000 1,282,400,000 357,300,000
2010 1,010,400,000 1,466,000,000 392,000,000
2011 1,080,500,000 1,624,100,000 449,300,000
2012 1,051,900,000 1,812,400,000 503,200,000
2013 1,071,200,000 1,922,500,000 503,700,000
2014 1,098,800,000 2,010,700,000 501,200,000
2015 1,143,200,000 2,209,100,000 510,600,000
2016 1,401,900,000 2,462,600,000 666,800,000
2017 1,558,100,000 2,674,600,000 798,600,000
2018 1,600,100,000 2,743,500,000 963,100,000
2019 1,624,900,000 2,817,300,000 1,003,700,000
2020 1,665,600,000 2,889,500,000 1,052,000,000

Pew Research Center

Year Newsmax
2020 26,400,000

Pew Research Center

Advertising revenue for cable TV

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2012 327,700,000 742,300,000 244,400,000
2013 319,800,000 776,400,000 223,800,000
2014 324,900,000 774,200,000 212,600,000
2015 361,500,000 814,900,000 222,200,000
2016 538,800,000 926,900,000 351,400,000
2017 615,300,000 1,018,800,000 467,200,000
2018 595,600,000 1,024,200,000 572,100,000
2019 578,500,000 1,066,200,000 619,500,000
2020 628,300,000 1,189,900,000 676,800,000

Pew Research Center

Year Newsmax
2020 25,000,000

Pew Research Center

License fee revenue for cable TV (Fox News, CNN and MSNBC)

 

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2012 675,600,000 1,051,300,000 245,100,000
2013 701,900,000 1,116,800,000 265,500,000
2014 723,300,000 1,198,500,000 273,600,000
2015 756,200,000 1,348,600,000 277,800,000
2016 837,000,000 1,483,200,000 304,200,000
2017 912,800,000 1,596,800,000 304,400,000
2018 973,800,000 1,654,600,000 342,400,000
2019 1,015,200,000 1,680,000,000 338,000,000
2020 1,005,400,000 1,621,400,000 326,300,000

Pew Research Center

Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all saw their profit increase in 2020, each growing roughly 6%-7% from the previous year. Newsmax lost $1.5 million in 2020, the first year for which we have data for this outlet.

Total profit for cable TV

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2006 256,300,000 215,600,000 84,200,000
2007 291,000,000 304,400,000 109,700,000
2008 409,900,000 502,600,000 148,100,000
2009 417,500,000 640,700,000 159,700,000
2010 395,300,000 779,900,000 167,500,000
2011 429,500,000 884,200,000 190,500,000
2012 374,700,000 1,006,200,000 235,900,000
2013 320,300,000 1,121,200,000 227,200,000
2014 293,700,000 1,178,700,000 181,900,000
2015 366,200,000 1,305,900,000 206,300,000
2016 565,500,000 1,481,600,000 309,700,000
2017 671,900,000 1,621,000,000 372,800,000
2018 675,100,000 1,643,600,000 428,900,000
2019 676,800,000 1,680,300,000 540,200,000
2020 714,700,000 1,795,500,000 575,300,000

Pew Research Center

Year Newsmax
2020 -1,500,000

Pew Research Center

Newsroom investment

Total newsroom spending by the three major cable channels was fairly flat in 2020. CNN’s expenses remained largely unchanged in 2020, while Fox News saw its expenses decline 4% and MSNBC saw its expenses increase 3%. In 2020, Newsmax spent $28 million on newsroom expenditures, the first year data for this outlet was available.

Newsroom spending for cable TV

 

Year CNN Fox News MSNBC
2006 566,300,000 472,500,000 186,500,000
2007 590,300,000 521,400,000 191,700,000
2008 616,900,000 582,100,000 218,500,000
2009 584,300,000 641,700,000 197,500,000
2010 615,100,000 686,100,000 224,500,000
2011 651,000,000 739,900,000 258,800,000
2012 677,100,000 806,200,000 267,300,000
2013 751,000,000 801,300,000 276,600,000
2014 805,000,000 832,100,000 319,400,000
2015 777,100,000 903,200,000 304,300,000
2016 836,400,000 981,100,000 357,100,000
2017 886,200,000 1,053,600,000 425,800,000
2018 924,900,000 1,099,800,000 534,200,000
2019 948,100,000 1,136,900,000 463,500,000
2020 950,900,000 1,094,000,000 476,700,000

Pew Research Center

Year Newsmax
2020 27,900,000

Pew Research Center

About 2,700 employees worked as reporters, editors, photographers, and camera operators and editors in cable TV newsrooms in 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. This is on par with 2017, when there were about 2,900 news employees.

Employment in cable TV newsrooms

 

 Year Total
2004 2,950
2005 3,110
2006 2,700
2007 2,820
2008 2,830
2009 3,260
2010 2,590
2011 2,190
2012 2,150
2013 2,720
2014 2,210
2015 2,760
2016 2,560
2017 2,940
2018 2,690
2019 2,820
2020 2,730

Pew Research Center

 

Year News analysts, reporters and journalists Editors Photographers Television, video, and film camera operators and editors
2012 $58,270 $70,502 $53,368 $40,831
2013 $56,117 $67,692 $52,110 $48,137
2014 $54,603 $66,565 $52,096 $58,543
2015 $50,215 $71,334 $49,494
2016 $59,823 $73,921 $52,650
2017 $58,511 $66,969 $50,485
2018 $54,696 $63,839 $48,305 $50,902
2019 $62,592 $49,885
2020 $66,480 $42,850 $62,840

Note: The OEWS survey is designed to produce estimates by combining data collected over a three-year period. Median annual wage adjusted for inflation. Data unavailable for some years for some occupations.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data.

Pew Research Center

The median wage for editors was about $66,000 per year in 2020, followed by camera operators and editors at about $63,000 and photographers at about $43,000. Since 2018, wage data for reporters in the cable industry has not been available.

Find out more

This fact sheet was compiled by Research Analyst Mason Walker.and Research Assistant Naomi Forman-Katz.

Read the methodology.

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Find more in-depth explorations of cable news by following the links below: