ESPN Reclaims Most-Watched Cable Network Title in Fourth Quarter


Sports trumped politics at the end of the year.

ESPN was the most-watched cable network in prime time in the fourth quarter, after losing that title a year earlier when people turned to Fox News during the presidential election.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned sports network averaged 3.05 million total viewers in the evening time period across both regular TV and streaming, an increase of 13 percent from a year earlier, according to an emailed statement. The network had taken the top spot every fourth quarter from 1999 through 2015, before last year’s race between Hillary Clinton and eventual winner Donald Trump led people to switch to political news.

Fox News, a division of 21st Century Fox Inc., was the most-viewed cable network for all of 2017 in both prime time and total day, its second year in a row on top of the ratings.

ESPN, like other TV networks, has had to cope with more viewers switching to online video and canceling their cable TV subscriptions. That’s put more of an onus on the network to improve ratings to hang on to advertising revenue.

While ESPN’s viewership improved from 2016, the election year, it was still down from 2015. For all of 2017, ESPN said its audience rose 7 percent in prime time to an average of 2.06 million viewers. That compared with 2.13 million viewers in 2015. ESPN benefited from live events including six New Year’s bowl games, Monday Night Football and the Manny Pacquiao versus Jeff Horn fight, among other programming.

Fox News averaged 2.4 million prime-time viewers in 2017.

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