Since it first took to the air in 1996, MSNBC has been deep in the fray, vying for coveted ratings in the fiercely competitive cable-television arena. Twenty-one years later, it has finally nabbed a big one: the biggest weekday prime-time cable audience, not only against news networks, but all networks on the cable landscape. Per Deadline, MSNBC posted a weekday prime-time average of 2.34 million viewers during the week of July 17 through 21, besting Fox News, which came in that week at 2.25 million. The Disney Channel came in third, with 1.74 million, per Fortune. The Hollywood Reporter notes that MSNBC has come ahead of both Fox and CNN before during the 8pm to 11pm weekday slot—once in 2012, then again this May—but it didn't surpass other non-news networks like USA and TNT.
HuffPo notes MSNBC has often come ahead of CNN in the Nielsens, but it lags behind Fox, which up until recently boasted a powerhouse prime-time lineup of Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and Sean Hannity. But now, with O'Reilly and Kelly gone from the network, opportunity has arisen for other networks to make inroads. TheWrap notes that overall viewership at MSNBC has jumped 78% since this time last year. Part of what's helped MSNBC as a contender is Rachel Maddow, who in her 9pm slot has been topping CNN's and Fox's ratings in that same time period for the past month or so—and whose show was almost the most-watched last week, second only to WWE programming. What may also appeal to viewers: "MSNBC is simply more transparent" about its strong liberal leanings, Joe Concha, who reports for the Hill, tells TheWrap.