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Most-Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2016’s Winners and Losers

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC experienced banner years thanks to the election, while major entertainment networks can't seem to stop their erosion – with a few exceptions.

ratings

2016’s ratings winners and losers

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YearInReview2016

The presidential election was very, very good to the cable news networks.

Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC garnered astounding viewership growth in 2016 thanks to the unconventional matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Fox News led all basic cable networks this year, with an average of 2,475,000 viewers in primetime – up 36% from last year. CNN jumped 77% (from 732,000 to 1,298,000), and MSNBC leaped 77% (from 596,000 to 1,113,000).

Here are a few more winners and losers from 2016:

WINNERS 

NBC: Among the broadcasters, NBC – fueled by the Summer Olympics and programs like NFL football, “The Voice” and “This Is Us,” was the only network to show year-to-year growth in viewers (up 8%) and adults 18-49 (up 3%).

Hallmark Channel: As most general entertainment cable networks struggle with massive erosion, the feel-good network targeting older viewers (you know, the people still watching linear TV) continues to impress. The channel was up a whopping 26% with adults 18-49 in 2016, and its sister Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel also enjoyed double-digit growth. Those Hallmark TV movies may be cheesy, but they’re also heavily watched.

Fox Sports 1: Thanks to its coverage of this year’s thrilling baseball playoffs, which eventually led to the Chicago Cubs’ historic World Series win, Fox Sports 1 grew 24% among viewers this year. It’s still nowhere near dominant ESPN’s ratings, but the network managed to get tremendous sampling this fall. (And it did leap ahead of ESPN2 to become cable’s No. 2 sports network.)

READ MORE: ‘The Walking Dead,’ Super Bowl, Oscars, Olympics Lead the Top-Rated Telecasts of 2016

LOSERS

Univision: The Spanish-language network’s telenovelas, mostly produced by Mexico’s Televisa, have seen a steep drop-off in popularity. Rival Telemundo continues to gain on its rivals, and even began beating Univision in the key 18-49 demo this year for the first time ever. Univision’s dominance was once so large that the Spanish giant seemed unbeatable – but as demographics change and younger multilingual Latinos grow in numbers, Univision risks being left behind.

Basic cable entertainment networks: USA, TNT, Discovery, History, AMC and FX are still among the top-rated cable networks on TV, and they’re expanding their scripted offerings in a bid to stay relevant. And yet… all of those networks were down year-to-year in viewers and adults 18-49. The truth of the matter is, audience viewing habits are changing, and as more people watch on demand and via other platforms, the inevitable linear ratings erosion will continue.

HLN: Surprisingly, CNN’s sister network HLN didn’t share in the massive news network growth, essentially remaining flat.

ESPN: The worldwide leader in sports is still the worldwide leader. But the channel must contend with the reality that as cable subscribers move toward “skinny bundles,” ESPN is seeing its distribution decline. Combine that with an 11% ratings dip (ESPN2 was down 19%), and that translates to a real financial hit for parent Disney.

READ MORE: These Are the 100 Most-Watched TV Shows of the 2015-16 Season: Winners and Losers

Syfy: The sci-fi network continues to struggle, with a large bench (“Channel Zero,” “Z Nation,” “The Expanse,” “Killjoys,” “Dark Matter,” “The Magicians”) but no real hits. Syfy’s 30% drop (in both viewers and 18-49) was the steepest decline of any major entertainment network.

Cable rebrands: Freeform (née ABC Family, down 22%) and MTV Classic (née VH1 Classic, down 34%) were both down this year after changing their names, while Viceland (née H2) wasn’t rated this year – so we have no official idea yet how it’s doing.

Here’s the ranker of almost every ad-supported broadcast and cable network in 2016 (with the exception of certain digital networks, as well as cable networks that aren’t measured by Nielsen), according to total viewers. (Below this chart, we also rank the year’s top 50 most-watched networks in the adults 18-49.)

 

TOTAL VIEWER RANK

NETWORK

2016 VIEWERS

2015 VIEWERS

% CHANGE

1

CBS

8,814,000

9,421,000

-6%

2

NBC

8,426,000

7,801,000

8%

3

ABC

6,325,000

6,889,000

-8%

4

Fox

5,053,000

5,247,000

-4%

5

Fox News Channel

2,475,000

1,826,000

36%

6

Univision

1,933,000

2,539,000

-24%

7

ESPN

1,912,000

2,148,000

-11%

8

The CW

1,759,000

1,762,000

flat

9

USA Network

1,681,000

1,821,000

-8%

10

TBS

1,586,000

1,800,000

-12%

11

HGTV

1,583,000

1,502,000

5%

12

TNT

1,551,000

1,724,000

-10%

13

Telemundo

1,505,000

1,444,000

4%

14

Discovery

 1,402,000

1,553,000

-10%

15

History

1,333,000

1,491,000

-11%

16

Disney Channel

1,316,000

1,715,000

-23%

17

CNN

1,298,000

732,000

77%

18

AMC

1,256,000

1,376,000

-9%

19

MSNBC

1,113,000

596,000

87%

20

FX

1,109,000

1,224,000

-9%

21

Food Network

1,057,000

1,110,000

-5%

22

Hallmark Channel

1,052,000

959,000

10%

23

Investigation Discovery

994,000

909,000

9%

24

Adult Swim

991,000

1,050,000

-6%

25

Lifetime

955,000

1,036,000

-8%

26

Bravo

908,000

849,000

7%

27

TLC

877,000

926,000

-5%

28

A&E

847,000

937,000

-10%

29

Freeform

812,000

1,046,000

-22%

30

Nick at Nite

808,000

814,000

-1%

31

Spike TV

704,000

779,000

-10%

32

Syfy

692,000

990,000

-30%

33

VH1

639,000

639,000

flat

34

TV Land

620,000

606,000

2%

35

Disney Junior

595,000

617,000

-4%

36

Nick Jr.

594,000

416,000

43%

37

Animal Planet

593,000

636,000

-7%

38

OWN

584,000

537,000

9%

39

MTV

569,000

580,000

-2%

40

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

549,000

428,000

28%

41

Comedy Central

529,000

583,000

-9%

42

E!

521,000

535,000

-3%

43

National Geographic

512,000

539,000

-5%

44

LMN

503,000

452,000

11%

45

WE TV

500,000

522,000

-4%

46

Fox Sports 1

494,000

397,000

24%

47

Travel Channel

482,000

440,000

10%

48

BET

439,000

588,000

-25%

49

GSN

439,000

423,000

4%

50

INSP

432,000

388,000

11%

51

Tru TV

414,000

458,000

-10%

52

NBC Sports Network

399,000

367,000

9%

53

 FXX

389,000

399,000

-3%

54

ESPN2

355,000

436,000

-19%

55

CNBC

339,000

389,000

-13%

56

WGN America

326,000

287,000

14%

57

HLN

325,000

323,000

1%

58

Science Channel

320,000

316,000

1%

59

NFL Network

312,000

399,000

-22%

60

Disney XD

292,000

367,000

-20%

61

NatGeo Wild

267,000

263,000

2%

62

CMT

266,000

293,000

-9%

63

DIY Network

255,000

209,000

22%

64

Oxygen

238,000

239,000

flat

65

BBC America

230,000

261,000

-12%

66

Velocity

222,000

208,000

7%

67

Sundance TV

219,000

174,000

26%

68

The Weather Channel

218,000

226,000

-4%

69

Nicktoons

217,000

262,000

-17%

70

Univision Deportes

212,000

156,000

36%

71

TV One

204,000

208,000

-2%

72

Destination America

195,000

227,000

-14%

73

IFC

190,000

178,000

7%

74

FYI

189,000

191,000

-1%

75

Boomerang

187,000

245,000

-24%

76

American Heroes Channel

Pop TV

179,000

179,000

209,000

170,000

-14%

5%

78

Teennick

178,000

197,000

-10%

79

Reelzchannel

171,000

164,000

4%

80

Galavisión

Sprout

169,000

169,000

158,000

160,000

7%

6%

82

MTV2

159,000

170,000

-6%

83

MLB Network

150,000

142,000

6%

84

Discovery Family Channel

148,000

160,000

-8%

85

Cooking Channel

145,000

126,000

15%

86

Esquire Network

141,000

120,000

18%

87

Fox Business Channel

139,000

97,000

43%

88

RFD TV

136,000

126,000

8%

89

FX Movie Channel

133,000

117,000

14%

90

Golf Channel

129,000

124,000

4%

91

UP

125,000

140,000

-11%

92

NBA TV

117,000

109,000

7%

93

Discovery en Español

111,000

114,000

-3%

94

Smithsonian Channel

107,000

90,000

19%

95

Great American Country

99,000

72,000

38%

96

ESPNU

96,000

115,000

-17%

97

Discovery Life

89,000

83,000

7%

98

Ovation

78,000

75,000

4%

99

NBC Universo

77,000

56,000

38%

100

Logo

73,000

65,000

12%

101

Chiller

64,000

88,000

-27%

102

Fox Deportes

62,000

60,000

3%

103

Centric

Fuse

59,000

59,000

68,000

53,000

-13%

11%

105

El Rey

53,000

35,000

51%

106

Cloo

51,000

66,000

-23%

107

Baby First TV

50,000

52,000

-4%

108

Discovery Familia

42,000

50,000

-16%

109

Fox Sports 2

33,000

39,000

-15%

110

MTV Classic

31,000

47,000

-34%

111

BEIN Sports Español

30,000

11,000

173%

112

BEIN Sports

14,000

21,000

-33%

Source: Nielsen. Prime time total viewers, Live+7; Broadcast data: 12/28/15-12/4/16 and 12/29/14-12/6/15; Cable data: 12/28/15-12/18/16, most current, and 12/29/14-12/27/15.

Here are the Top 50 ad-supported networks among adults 18-49 in 2016.

18-49

RANK

NETWORK

2016 VIEWERS

2015 VIEWERS

% CHANGE

1

NBC

2,782,000

2,699,000

3%

2

CBS

2,264,000

2,391,000

-5%

3

ABC

2,142,000

2,401,000

-11%

4

Fox

2,041,000

2,187,000

-7%

5

Univision

904,000

1,199,000

-25%

6

ESPN

816,000

923,000

-12%

7

The CW

808,000

839,000

-4%

8

Telemundo

754,000

760,000

-1%

9

TBS

729,000

836,000

-13%

10

USA

692,000

723,000

-4%

11

TNT

625,000

639,000

-2%

12

AMC

610,000

698,000

-13%

13

Discovery Channel

575,000

669,000

-14%

14

FX

560,000

609,000

-8%

15

Adult Swim

530,000

543,000

-2%

16

HGTV

476,000

466,000

2%

17

Bravo

469,000

474,000

-1%

18

Food Network

431,000

469,000

-8%

19

History

417,000

476,000

-12%

20

Lifetime

411,000

434,000

-5%

21

Freeform

408,000

527,000

-23%

22

VH1

396,000

400,000

-1%

23

A&E

390,000

399,000

-2%

24

CNN

MTV

373,000

373,000

196,000

371,000

90%

1%

26

Fox News Channel

354,000

234,000

51%

27

Spike TV

344,000

388,000

-11%

28

Comedy Central

337,000

379,000

-11%

29

TLC

334,000

365,000

-8%

30

Investigation Discovery

327,000

310,000

5%

31

Disney Channel

319,000

385,000

-17%

32

Nick at Nite

298,000

276,000

8%

33

E!

290,000

305,000

-5%

34

 Syfy

280,000

399,000

-30%

35

Hallmark Channel

251,000

199,000

26%

36

Tru TV

223,000

232,000

-4%

37

FXX

219,000

228,000

-4%

38

BET

209,000

289,000

-28%

39

MSNBC

207,000

104,000

99%

40

OWN

202,000

185,000

9%

41

Fox Sports 1

201,000

170,000

18%

42

 Animal Planet

193,000

224,000

-14%

43

LMN

187,000

177,000

6%

44

Disney Junior

184,000

176,000

5%

45

Travel Channel

180,000

175,000

3%

46

WE TV

167,000

185,000

-10%

47

National Geographic

NBC Sports Network

163,000

163,000

199,000

147,000

-18%

11%

49

Nick Jr.

159,000

114,000

39%

50

 TV Land

157,000

182,000

-14%

Source: Nielsen. Prime time total viewers, Live+7; Broadcast data: 12/28/15-12/4/16 and 12/29/14-12/6/15; Cable data: 12/28/15-12/18/16, most current, and 12/29/14-12/27/15.

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