Newsmax TV gained a lot of attention last fall when disaffected Fox News fans flocked to the channel en masse. For the first time in Fox’s 24-year history, it had real and measurable 24/7 competition from the right. And that’s still true – but Newsmax’s Nielsen ratings are way off their post-election highs.
By one measure, comparing Newsmax’s peak week in mid-November to a low point at the end of February, Newsmax’s audience has lost “more than half its audience,” Marisa Sarnoff wrote for Mediaite last week.
A Newsmax representative said those figures were misleading and noted that all cable news viewership has declined since the election. That’s true: News ratings rise and fall like tides.
But what Newsmax experienced was more like a flash flood, followed by a dry spell.
As Politico media critic Jack Shafer recently commented on Twitter, this story is “not just the decline of Newsmax but its wild spike and subsequent decline.”
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Newsmax’s ratings surged, in some cases by a factor of ten. This was, at least in part, a Big Lie ratings boost – supporters of President Trump raged against Fox for perceived sins like calling the state of Arizona for Joe Biden, and those supporters looked for alternative media sources.
At some points in November Newsmax averaged about one-fourth of Fox’s total audience, which definitely made a dent in Fox and sparked more than a little bit of concern inside the Rupert Murdoch-controlled network.
Lately, however, Newsmax’s audience has been about one-eighth the size of Fox’s on good days, and even smaller than that on bad days. On Tuesday, for example, Newsmax netted 175,000 viewers at any given time, versus Fox’s 1.49 million. On Wednesday, more of the same: Newsmax averaged 169,000 and Fox averaged 1.47 million.
Greg Kelly’s far-right 7 p.m. broadcast continues to be Newsmax’s biggest hit, but his ratings have fallen off considerably, just like the rest of the channel. There were days right after the election when Kelly topped one million viewers. Now he is usually under the half-million mark. In the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that cable news networks covet, Kelly is no longer nipping at Fox’s heels. In hindsight, that day Kelly out-rated Fox’s 7 p.m. hour in the 25-54 demo was a fluke.
Some of the reasons for this reversal of fortune are obvious: Trump is no longer making news on a minute-by-minute basis. And he is no longer tweeting or otherwise touting Newsmax’s brand. Plus, President Biden is a comparatively tame story. And some Fox fans have “come home” to Fox, as a network executive predicted in November that they would.
To be sure, Fox still faces a wide world of competitors that wouldn’t have merited any attention a year ago. With Newsmax, One America News, and a half dozen right-wing streaming players in the mix, there is an entire ecosystem trying to peel viewers away from Murdoch’s media empire. This will continue to put pressure on Fox to satiate the audience with opinion and outrage content, not meat and potatoes news.
Case in point: The Sunday afternoon when Trump spoke at CPAC. Newsmax averaged about 1.57 million viewers during the speech, about 15 times higher than usual. Fox averaged 5.74 million viewers during the speech.
But those Trump-inflated moments don’t happen very often. And Newsmax’s declines demonstrate that the channel hasn’t been able to retain all of the viewers that went searching for a Fox alternative last fall.
Newsmax’s right-wing rivals have noticed the air coming out of the balloon. Bill O’Reilly, for one, discussed the Mediaite article on his radio show. A Twitter account belonging to his show noted that “the network’s viewership exploded after the election but now the numbers are going down.”
In response to this reporting, the same Newsmax staffer who usually sends out the company’s press releases wrote to me and said Newsmax was doing a story involving “CNN’s ratings collapse.”
Separately, the channel’s head of communications and marketing issued a statement assailing the ratings for “Reliable Sources” and CNN as a whole.
The channel’s story claimed that Newsmax “has had a sudden rise, catapulting the independent network as a top cable news player.”
Nielsen data does not back up that boast. While the ratings for CNN, Fox and MSNBC have all declined since the election, as expected, those channels are all far ahead of Newsmax.
So far in March, for instance, CNN has averaged 897,000 total viewers at any given time; Fox, 1.32 million; and MSNBC, 1.13 million. Newsmax has averaged 152,000.
In the 25-54 demo, so far this month, CNN has averaged 313,00; Fox, 386,000; and MSNBC, 269,000. Newsmax has averaged 36,000, or less than one-tenth of Fox’s base.
The moment when it seemed like Newsmax might catapult itself into cable’ big leagues has come and, at least for now, gone.
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.