Jon Stewart Drawing More Viewers Than Fox News Channel

It turns out that 2011 wasn’t the best of years for Fox News Channel, but it was a great year for The Daily Show:

By losing 9% of their audience in 2011, Fox News’ prime time lineup now averages fewer viewers than Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

According to TVNewser, Fox News averaged 1.868 million total viewers in prime time compared to 2.3 million for The Daily Show.

The audience erosion continued over at Fox News as the network lost 8% of its total viewers and 14% of their viewers in the 25-54 demo. The total number of daytime Fox News viewers slipped to 1.073 million.

“Red Eye” was the only Fox News show to post ratings gains in 2011. Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and On The Record With Greta Van Susteren all lost viewers. In the morning, Fox and Friends remained flat. Fox News still showed its dominance by having the top 13 rated cable news programs, but a certain program hosted by a comedian that Fox News loves to hate on Comedy Central blew past most of the Fox News shows in the ratings.

According to Comedy Central, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart averaged 2.3 million viewers per episode in 2011. Unlike Fox News, “The Daily Show” was up in total viewers (+7%) and all key demos: adults 18-49 (+6%); men 18-34 (+2%); men 18-24 (+4%).” The Daily Show was also the top cable late night talk show in terms of total viewers, and was generally dominant. While Fox News was losing 14% in the demo in 2011, Jon Stewart was gaining 6%.

Jon Stewart has become Fox News’ #1 media nemesis. To put Stewart’s ratings into a head to head context, The O’Reilly Factor tends to hover around the 3 million viewers range. Hannity is at around 2+ million, and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren varies between 1.1 million and 1.5 million as an average. This means that The Daily Show is more popular than both Hannity and On The Record, and trails O’Reilly by about 700,000 viewers.

So basically, The Daily Show averages more viewers than any show on Fox News Channel not hosted by Bill O’Reilly, and only trails him by 700,000 viewers. Perhaps more importantly, Stewart is stronger among the age demographics important to advertisers, while Fox News seems to be most popular among people on Medicare.

Perhaps this is why we’ve heard recently about Roger Ailes rethinking the ideological tone that his network has taken over the past three years.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Peter says:

    Add to that all those who, like me, watch the Daily Show on the internet.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    The TV viewing audience in the U.S. is around 300 million. That the number one rated cable news show gets 1% of the audience and the number one rated “talk” show gets less should tell use more about how most people just do not care about news, current events, or politics.

    What is really amazing is the number one rated television show on television gets about 20 million viewers on boardcast and the number one rates show on cable gets less than 7 million viewers.

    What television really show is that the U.S. has no common culture. There is no movie, television show, book, magazine, or performing act that even 25% experiences. The superbowl is the most common cultural event in the U.S. and only about half the people in the U.S. watch it. Think about how business, politics, or entertainment has to function is such a diverse country.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: For once, we’re in complete agreement. With hundreds of channels to choose from–or, even just the dozens that show original content–the audience is fragmented in a way that it never has been before.

    Shows like “The Sopranos” (which I never saw) or “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” (both of which I do watch) can be wildly popular among critics and the cognoscenti and yet have audiences that would have gotten a 1990s network show canceled mid-season. It’s just a different world.

    And, yes, current events programming is a niche market. You’d probably get better ratings showing reruns of Dallas Cowboys games from the 1970s.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    In a story in Thealtantic, the English instructor at two open-admission universities noted that the only cultural item in the U.S. that he would count on all of the students and that was they had all watched the Wizard of Oz.


    That is why the Democratic Party can appear so different to different demographic groups. The Democratic Party that the Jon Stewart viewers support is very different than the Democratic Party of the CBC or CHC. They have different view on policy and care about very different issues.

  5. Nikki says:

    It was only a matter of time. One can’t stay angry, frightened and outraged 24/7. It’s much easier on the blood pressure to make the time for laughter at 2300, 4 days a week.

  6. Kylopod says:

    This runs contrary to one bit of conventional wisdom: that political shows get better ratings when they party they favor is out of power. One of the interesting things about Stewart is that his satire hasn’t suffered all that much since Obama took office. This is not because he’s as hard on Obama as he was on Bush, but because he’s been able to find a lot of humor in how Republicans have behaved in the Obama era (and in other things as well–some of my biggest laughs from that show did not come from attacks on Republicans).

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: As I’ve noted a few times in other posts, the same hasn’t been true of Colbert. With a Democrat in office, he’s hamstrung by his Faux O’Reilly shtick. Stewart is able to pivot and make comedy out of whatever’s handed to him.

  8. HelloWorld! says:

    I used to watch fox just to get exposure to other points of view, but it was so d*mn depressing. No I go to Outside the Beltway.

    I wish Colbert were on a little earlier. He is a profit sent by God if you ask me. The points he can make with political satire is truely a gift from above.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @HelloWorld!: I DVR both Stewart and Colbert and watch whenever.

  10. Kylopod says:

    I’ve always felt Colbert’s shtick was more limited than Stewart’s. This became even more apparent when he got his own show. He has had moments of utter brilliance, and a lot of them were tied to the Bush era, from his coinage of the word “truthiness” to his infamous routine at the White House dinner. (When I was watching that routine in 2006 on my laptop while sitting in the lobby at my college, I was laughing so hard people were giving me strange looks.) But it seems he has less room to express himself, because he always must act in character as this “conservative.” Stewart, in contrast, can go back and forth between ironic mockery and straightforward commentary at any moment. He also engages in a lot of meta-humor, where he makes a joke then makes fun of the fact that he was making that joke. He’s the type of comedian who creates several layers to his persona, enabling him to shift to different modes in the same routine.

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    News is a very niche market. Fox only manages to get these ratings because they dilute it to the point of entertainment. I don´t think that these ratings are sustainable. Murdoch´s own Sky News only gets 200 k viewers in the UK..

    Regarding Stewart, the point here is that his real target is Fox News, not Bush or Obama. So, Fox makes his job easy.

  12. Andy says:

    People still watch cable “news?”

  13. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “Shows like “The Sopranos” (which I never saw) or “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad” (both of which I do watch) can be wildly popular among critics and the cognoscenti and yet have audiences that would have gotten a 1990s network show canceled mid-season.”

    FWIW, while Sopranos was something of a legitimate hit, Mad Men and Breaking Bad get ratings that would get them cancelled at a network after the first episode today, forget about the 1990s. Stuff like The Closer, Burn Notice and The Walking Dead blow those shows out of the water when it comes to number of viewers.

    The fact that a largely unwatched program like Mad Men is such a sensation among media elites gets back to the increasingly stark division between art and entertainment in our culture. Art isn’t expected to be entertaining, which elevates niche storytelling like Mad Men and The Wire, and entertainment isn’t expected to be artistic, which is why so many Hollywood blockbusters are so wretched.

    I mean, I saw the editor of Entertainment Weekly this morning talking up The Artist as the leading candidate for Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s a black-and-white silent movie, made in the style of the early 1920s. The thing has barely made over 3 million dollars in 33 days of release, which means well over 95% of the movie-going public hasn’t seen it and given its content and style, they’d have no interest in it. When you elevate that esoteric a product to the height of your industry, you’ve got a real problem.


  14. Hello World! says:

    @James Joyner: I always forget that i have a DVR!

    @Klyopod well don’t you think Colberts brilliant portrail of PACs will earn him a place in history?

  15. Jay says:

    I like Stewart, and I love his show. And I think he plays an important role in our culture. But his influence will not fix cable news. He does a great job of attacking news media when he is a guest on their shows, but has shown no inclination to transition to a true journalism show himself. Stewart points out the problems, but we need a network that is willing to solve them.

  16. Winghunter says:

    Isn’t Stewart the mindless twit who said Truman was a war criminal for dropping the bomb on Japan?? Yeah, thought so.

    Stewart is a poster child for Preparation H!

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Jay: You begin, I believe, with a false premise: that the people who run media companies want to solve said problems. My strong suspicion is that, if these problems were “fixed,” far fewer people would watch cable news than watch it now.

    The bottom line is that very few Americans are interested in an NPR/BBC/PBS style approach to news coverage. Relatively few are even interested in soft news “infotainment” of the nature presented on the morning shows. It’s all about drawing eyeballs and selling soap; the “news” is just the bait, not the goal.

  18. Dustin says:

    This explains why Fox so often went hard after Stewart this year.

  19. Jay says:

    @James Joyner: huh? I didn’t say, nor do I think, that the networks want to be fixed. Anyway, I agree with your point about what viewers want to see.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    It’s choice, not diversity. The four people living right here in my house have few common media experiences. We tried all watching the first LOTR the other night. All four of us had laptops open while the move ran. And the notion that we had some sort of right to have the movie paused each time we wanted to go to the bathroom or grab a snack ended up obliterating any common experience.

    Often heard phrase in my home: I’ll catch it later on Netflix/iTunes/Hulu.

    Vast arrays of choices and time-shifting are the norm. Location shifting is becoming the norm — media will follow us rather than us sitting to watch media.

  21. When Fox News first came out, I watched it constantly. Partly because it’s become more blatantly political and partly because the definition of conservatism has over time changed from a political philosophy to an identity group, it’s become unwatchable for me.

    Even when you hear Fox talking about an issue where I putatively agree with them, their arguments tend to be so obviously fallicious, that there’s an implied insult to my intelligence in their belief I could possibly be swayed by them.

    I find I prefer news site where, even if I mostly disagree with them, are wrong in an interesting way. I like news where I have to think about why I do or don’t agree with them.

  22. @Hello World!:

    @Klyopod well don’t you think Colberts brilliant portrail of PACs will earn him a place in history?

    He does a great job pointing out how ridiculous our current system is, but on the other hand, it seems like his preferred solution is to make it even more ridiculous. Like many in traditional media, he wants system where “media corporations” have virtually no restrictions, while everyone else is virtually banned from political speech. The problem is that “media corporation” is such an arbitray concept (e.g. Why should General Electric have been granted for more latitude to engage in political speech then its competitors when it owned NBC), it’s hard to justify it as anything other than special pleading.

  23. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds: “media will follow us rather than us sitting to watch media”

    I suspect the self-centeredness (meant in a purely technical and not judgmental way) of that behavior is going to make for some interesting cultural developments.


  24. michael reynolds says:

    Of couse the flip side is that my kids at least are often in contact with virtual “friends” so that they are experiencing media (and friendship of a sort) in all these new ways. There can be a virtual community of people watching LOTR at that moment, it just may not include the parents and siblings sharing the same meat space with them.

  25. mattb says:

    The “common culture” that SD refers to is a historical exception rather than the norm.

    The US — in fact, almost any country/region that’s large enough to contain at least two geographically separate cities, has never had a unified cultural identity for any significant portion of its history.

    If we look historically — mass broadcast media (radio and then TV) allowed for a *brief* moment in which a sort of national media culture existed. At best ran for about forty years – in other words little more than the blink of an eye if one takes a longer view of culture and media.

    Prior to those 40/50 years (~1940-1990) that cultural products were divided along city, political, class, and ethnic lines. Since the advent of the internet and the expansion of cable, we can add “lifestyle” to those divisions. But, generally speaking, the media fragmentation we see now is closer to the historical norm than the age of “I love lucy” or “M.A.S.H.” ever was.

  26. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds & @MBunge:
    Perhaps a better phrase will be that connections will follow us (or travel with us) wherever we go. And that can be both media and social connections. The other part is that where we go (and what we are using) will also factor into the connections we engage with at any given moment. The new combinations this will allow for will open up new possibilities in all three categories.

  27. Dazedandconfused says:

    Stewart and Colbert spoof the entire news media spectrum.

    A cottage industry in the tradition of the court jester -pointing out the lack of clothes on certain people. We have a lot of Baghdad Bobs these days.

  28. Derrick says:

    I think that one missing note about this is that Fox is now suffering with their own audience for the same reasons that they’ve suffered with non-Republicans for so long. Their clear bias towards and against certain candidates is likely hurting them during this campaign. As they give some candidates (Cain/Gingrich) the W treatment and give others (Romney/Paul) the Obama treatment, my guess is that they are even turning off some of their own core viewers.

  29. ed says:

    More informed viewers, too (although in FNC’s case, that’s by design).

  30. @Kylopod:

    I’ve always felt Colbert’s shtick was more limited than Stewart’s. This became even more apparent when he got his own show.

    I find just the opposite. Colbert can go after the excesses of the left in a way that Stewart can’t because the more partisan parts of the audience will just chalk it up to his “right wing pundit” character. Thus Colbert can get away with criticism that would get Stewart booed. Colbert’s schtick frees doesn’t limit him; it frees him.

  31. The other thing I love about Colbert is that he’s becoming the master of the long play. He has bits that often take weeks or even months to reach their ultimate conclusion (a great example of this would be the saga involving putting his painting in the Smithsonian).