The 2022 midterms set a few records, including nearly $10 billion in political advertising and with the number of early voters. It did not, however, set an audience record. The total audience for the 2022 midterms averaged 25.4 million viewers, the second lowest since 2002 and a 30% decline from the 36.1 million viewers of the 2018 midterms. In 2022 Nielsen had measured the audience delivery of five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo and Univision) and eight cable news channels CNN, CNN en Espanol, Fox Business, Fox News, MSNBC, Newsmax, NewsNation) compared 11 networks measured in 2018. (Out-of-home viewing and connected TV viewing were included.) Other networks that provided live coverage such as PBSPBS were not included.
For the evening, Fox News, cable’s top rated news network, generated 7.2 million viewers in primetime (8 to 11 p.m. ET), an 8% drop-off from 2018. Over the same three hours, MSNBC averaged 3.1 million viewers, a decline of 34% from 2018. CNN averaged 2.6 million viewers for the evening. Although CNN’s audience was down by 49% compared to four years ago, the network boasted a younger median age than their cable rivals as well all three English language broadcast networks at 57, a full decade younger than the MSNBC viewer. The median age for Fox News was 64. Also, for the “news demo” of adults 25-to-54, CNN ranked second among all cable and broadcast networks with 1.06 million viewers greater than ABC, CBS, NBC and MSNBC.
The broadcast networks also suffered steep declines. For the first time since 2010 ABC led among the three broadcast networks with an average audience of 3.3 million viewers, a decline of 38% from 2018. NBC averaged 3.1 million viewers (-43% from 2018) and CBS averaged 2.6 million viewers (-33% from 2018). For its primetime coverage CBS News had a median age of 64, ABC News was at 63 and NBC News at 60.
With an anticipated close election which would determine control of Congress for the next two years, ABC, CBS and NBC began their live coverage at 8 p.m. (ET). Similar to Presidential elections they carried their live coverage well past the midnight hour with live updates and projections. The broadcast network coverage was led by their respective evening news anchors. As in the past the cable news networks started its coverage before primetime and also ran past midnight.
There were however, some updates to their coverage. Amid the background of fraud, fake news, the networks looked to validate the voting information they were covering. In a first, CBS News which first broadcast election returns in 1948, implemented a “Democracy Desk” which had on-air correspondents and persons knowledgeable with election laws report on any violence/threats to election workers and any accusations of election fraud. NBC News provided a similar feature called “Vote Watch Unit” which looked into alternative facts and voter security. ABC News also had a group of correspondents that focused on the topic.
Both broadcast and cable news networks had “boots-on-the-ground” correspondents across the battleground states. In addition, live coverage had been streamed across a number of digital platforms including CBS News Streaming, NBC News Now and ABC News Live as well as various websites, apps and YouTube channels. With linear news networks skewing toward older adults, the digital coverage would (hopefully) attract a younger audience. As expected, the inclusion of digital viewing did boost audience delivery. For example, for CNN when digital live streaming is combined with linear TV, the total audience grew 8% reaching a total audience of 2.8 million.
Another enhancement was the use of augmented reality in their coverage. Both CBS and Univision used the technology which visually aided viewers to better understand the issues in real time.
The total average audience for the 2020 Presidential election was also lower than the 2016 Presidential election. In 2020 the networks combined had averaged 56.9 primetime million viewers across 13 networks. This was also a sizable decline from 2016 which generated an average of 71 million total viewers in primetime across 21 networks. Forbes