When Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade signed on Monday night to fill in for the defunct “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” some combination of curiosity, lead-in and brand strength kept the network’s total viewers numbers in a dead heat with Carlson’s last show the Friday before.
But boy, what a difference a couple of days makes: While the 8 p.m. hour got 2.59 million total viewers on average on Monday, viewership dropped to 1.7 million viewers on Tuesday, and slid further to 1.33 million total viewers on Wednesday, falling just behind MSNBC in that time-slot, according to Nielsen live plus same-day figures.
Trend-wise, it’s ugly: That’s a 34% Monday-to-Tuesday drop, with another 22% slide from Tuesday’s numbers on Wednesday night. Comparing Monday to Wednesday, average total viewership evaporated by half.
It’s not hugely surprising, and certainly not a disaster for Fox News, which on its worst of nights is still the most-watched network in cable news. Wednesday’s 1.33 million may be a poor showing compared with Fox’s historical 8 p.m. audience, but it still more than doubled CNN’s numbers that night (643,000 total viewers).
And by no means was Kilmeade expected to hold onto the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” audience as a last-minute pinch-hitter with no prep – nor is being floated as Carlson’s heir apparent. That Fox News is still competitive in that time-slot with a drop-in replacement speaks to its enduring ratings strength.
But it can’t feel good that MSNBC beat Fox News on Wednesday night at 8 p.m., with “All In With Chris Hayes” barely edging out Kilmeade’s news hour by a few thousand total viewers (with 1.37 million).
It’s also worth noting that when looking at the target demographic of adults among 25-54, Fox News’ rivals always fare better by comparison, thanks to Fox News’ aging audience. On Wednesday night, for instance, from the “primetime” hours of 8 p.m.-11 p.m., MSNBC was tops with 153,000 viewers, while Fox News pulled in 146,000 and CNN saw 125,000.
Carlson’s final show on Friday night drew in 2.65 million viewers, a below-average haul for the host who had no idea he’d be fired the following Monday morning. Everyone from Carlson to Sean Hannity said they were blindsided by Fox News’ shocking move, reportedly the result of a confluence of troubles for the conservative commentator who was the highest rated, and highest-paid, host in cable news.
Fox News has a long history of replacing its ratings juggernauts when they flame out: Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren and others have been successfully backfilled from Fox’s bench. With ratings falling as fast as these, they may want to hurry up and name a replacement.