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Trump’s Cable News Deal: Ratings for Coverage

Cable news is thriving like never before, but it’s coming at a cost… is this the ultimate Trump deal?

Cable News Press Briefings

Are we entering a new hey-day for cable news? Ratings in the first quarter of 2017 are up across the board, and while the rankings are unchanged (Fox is tops, then CNN, and MSNBC in third), some are winning bigger than others.

Fox News finished far and above its competition in the ratings for the first quarter of 2017, with the network putting up the highest-rated quarter ever in cable news history in the total day viewership measure, according to Nielsen data released Tuesday. This marks 61 consecutive quarters that Fox News has finished number one among cable news networks in total day and primetime viewership.

Fox News averaged 1.72 million total day viewers, with 359,000 of those falling in the key adults 25-54 demo. CNN finished second with 826,000 total day viewers and 266,000 viewers in the demo. MSNBC came in third with 781,000 total day viewers and 185,000 viewers in the demo. Yet despite finishing third, MSNBC definitely has reason to celebrate. The network grew its viewership by 55 percent in total day viewers and 40 percent in the key demo compared to quarter one of 2016, no doubt boosted in part thanks to a surge in the ratings of “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

But that growth comes at a cost. In exchange for the must-see TV events (like this week’s dust up with April Ryan) that the Trump administration is providing these 24-hour news channels, the networks are carrying wall-to-wall coverage of White House press briefings and other official events.

An hour-long White House press briefing, for example, with zero commercial breaks could cost these networks millions. All three major cable networks have carried nearly every press briefing since Trump took office. If this pattern continues, these companies could be faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Cable news blossomed in the Clinton era and thrived in the Bush and Obama administrations, but they did not cover White House press briefings every single day. Network executives will be forced to decide when to pull the plug on Sean Spicer, and that decision will likely be made with the balance sheet in hand.