Poor Sean Hannity gets dethroned as MSNBC continues its ratings surge.
For more than a decade, the title belonged to Bill O'Reilly. And then it was handed off to Fox News host Sean Hannity. Now, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow wears the crown as most watched host in cable news.
It's a startling rise in the ratings for Maddow, as MSNBC positions itself, especially during primetime, as the home of the Trump resistance.
And boy, is it paying off. In the overall cable universe, MSNBC now draws more viewers than ESPN.
The Maddow crowning comes as Fox's overall ratings slip 16 percent compared to the same time last year. There are growing signs that the never-ending Trump scandals may be starting to depress Fox's loyal viewers.
When O'Reilly was finally fired last year for his serial pattern of misconduct, which cost the network millions of dollars in settlements, Fox reshuffled its nighttime lineup and moved Hannity from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., setting up a showdown between one of Trump's most ardent critics with his loudest, most sycophantic Fox News cheerleader.
And for months, Hannity prevailed in that battle. Beginning in late 2017 and early 2018 though, Maddow occasionally defeated Hannity among viewers 25-54, while Hannity still claimed a larger overall audience.
But no more.
In March, Maddow bested Hannity in-demo, and among total viewers.
This is likely the first time since before the Iraq War in 2003 that the most-watched cable news host does not work for Fox News. The right-wing network catapulted in the ratings thanks to the Republican White House invasion in 2003, as Fox cheered the incursion and called out war critics as would-be traitors. O'Reilly rode that wave for years and maintained his firm control as the most-watched cable news host.
The Maddow news comes as MSNBC continues to post its best ratings in its history.
To put the network's stunning audience growth in context, just over a decade ago at then-struggling MSNBC, its top-rated primetime host in 2007, Keith Olbermann, averaged an audience of less than 800,000 viewers.
This March, MSNBC's prime-time lineup of Chris Hayes, Maddow, and Lawrence O'Donnell, averaged 2.4 million total viewers. That's way up from the 1.6 million viewers MSNBC averaged in primetime just last year.
And it's not only the primetime that's surging. Joy Reid's "AM Joy," which airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings, just finished the first quarter of 2018 with the highest quarterly ratings in 10 a.m. to noon time slot in the network's history, with an audience of 1.3 million viewers.
If the current MSNBC and Fox News viewing trends continue throughout 2018, there's a chance that by the end of the year MSNBC could dethrone Fox News as the most-watched news channel in America.