On Monday, the day of Donald Trump’s indictment in Georgia, MSNBC achieved the rare distinction of being the most-watched cable network on television and, during Rachel Maddow’s prime time interview with Hillary Clinton, the most-watched network on television, period. The landmark ratings performance—3.1 million viewers across prime time (its highest of the year so far), and 3.9 million during the hour of the interview—was a result of fortuitous circumstances, of course: Trump happened to get indicted on the one day of the week that Maddow still hosts her primetime show, and Maddow also happened to have had a pre-scheduled interview with Trump’s former political rival. On some level, the stars just aligned.
Nevertheless, MSNBC’s big win on indictment day highlighted some broader trends in the cable news landscape heading into 2024. As I noted a few weeks back, MSNBC’s unwavering commitment to an avowedly progressive, anti-Trump audience has put the network in a uniquely strong position to assuage (and amplify) liberal anxieties during a Trump-heavy election cycle, especially since David Zaslav decided to forfeit the competition by repositioning CNN once it was under his aegis. (Though, to be fair, the network’s coverage has drifted leftward since Chris Licht’s exit.) Indeed, MSNBC was the most-watched cable network on Tuesday, as well, averaging nearly 2 million viewers in prime time.
More remarkably, MSNBC also seems to have become the preferred destination for non-Fox audiences during actual news events from the campaign trail and the courtroom—an area where CNN had long been dominant. On the day of the indictment, CNN drew just half of MSNBC’s total audience, and a mere third of its audience in prime time.