Fox News gets a huge Trump bump during former president's CPAC speech

Former President Donald Trump repeated his election lies on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, looking to reclaim his role as the Republican Party's kingmaker as he positions himself to play a major role in the 2022 midterm elections.

Posted: Feb 28, 2021 5:45 PM
Updated: Mar 2, 2021 3:45 PM


The Republican base's commitment to former president Donald Trump showed up like a fist in the air in Sunday's television ratings.

The ratings for Fox News Channel, which have been relatively weak since Trump lost the election last November, spiked Sunday afternoon when he was scheduled to address the CPAC convention in Orlando, Florida.

Fox averaged 5.74 million viewers during the speech, which it showed without any commercial interruption.

At least 1.5 million others watched the speech on Newsmax, one of Fox's lower-rated rivals.

The former president is likely to celebrate Sunday's ratings report, since it shows that his fan base still comes out in droves to watch him.

Several other channels, including One America News and C-SPAN, also took Trump's speech live, but those channels are not rated by Nielsen.

Fox's Sunday afternoon lineup -- a repeated target of Trump's ire while he was still in office -- had averaged 700,000 to 900,000 viewers the previous week.

But this Sunday, boosted by days of right-wing media hype about Trump's star turn at CPAC, Fox News averaged 1.4 million viewers at 2 p.m., rising to 2.5 million in the 3 p.m. hour, when Trump was originally slated to speak.

Fox brought in weekday anchors to helm hours of special coverage -- yet another sign of the right-wing network's corporate alliance with Trump, even as its political alliance with him has been shakier.

Fox's pre-speech coverage in the 4 p.m. hour averaged 3.1 million viewers, but the biggest spike in the ratings didn't happen until the speech actually began around 4:45.

For comparison's sake, the 5.7 million viewer figure for Trump's speech more than doubled Fox's viewership during President Biden's inauguration. (Biden's inaugural outrated Trump's 2017 inauguration overall.)

Beyond just Fox, Trump's speech ranked as the No. 1 telecast on all of cable for the month of February.

And it surpassed episodes of 'This Is Us,' 'Shark Tank' and other broadcast network fare last week. (Those scripted series accumulate a lot more viewership on-demand, however.)

Newsmax's ratings also soared on Sunday afternoon, with roughly 1.57 million viewers during the speech. That's about 15 times higher than Newsmax's performance on the prior Sunday.

Altogether, Trump's speech averaged 7.3 million viewers across the two channels. Later in the day, the Golden Globes awards show on NBC delivered 6.9 million viewers, a record low for the Globes.

Comparisons between the two events are flawed because they took place at different times of day, on different channels, with different ad loads and agendas. Nevertheless, as a contrast between the conservative movement's culture war and liberal Hollywood's celebration of itself, it's one that will likely be irresistible to Trump and Fox.

Other news channels pointedly did not carry Trump's CPAC address live, rightly expecting it to be light on actual news and heavy on nonsensical claims and outright falsehoods. CNN's fact-check called it a speech 'filled with debunked lies,' many of which were repeats. Of course, it's possible that Fox and Newsmax attracted some viewers who were not ardent Trump supporters, but were curious about the former president's first televised speech since leaving office.

Viewership of CNN and MSNBC stayed steady during Trump's visit to CPAC, with CNN averaging nearly one million viewers, in line with the prior Sunday.

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