As the results of the presidential election unfolded Tuesday night and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, cable news viewers had itchy remote fingers.
Real-time viewing data from TV by the Numbers’ partner Gracenote shows that CNN and Fox News were more or less neck-and-neck at any given moment throughout the night, while MSNBC was a distant third throughout.
The early portion of the evening mostly went CNN’s way, with spikes in viewers soon after polls closed in various states as results started to roll in. CNN had a spike to a 15.3 percent share of viewers* just after 9 p.m. ET and another just before 11 p.m., as West Coast polls were about to close. It hit a high of 18.2 percent at that time.
(*Gracenote’s real-time data is conveyed in terms of share of the overall audience.)
Fox News gained momentum later in the night as the Electoral College race started to swing more decisively toward Republican nominee Donald Trump. The channel called Wisconsin for Trump shortly after 11:30 p.m., and a spike to a 15.7 percent share came within 15 minutes of that.
Fox reached its apex around 12:45 a.m. ET with an 18 percent share, when Trump was projected as just shy of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
The spikes for both Fox News and CNN tended to be short-lived, however. Four minutes after CNN hit 18.2, it was down to 9.9. Similarly, Fox News hit its high at 12:45, it dropped precipitously after cutting to a commercial.
The race wasn’t called until about 2:30 a.m. ET, and by that time viewing had declined markedly across the board. Fox News held the lead then as well, drawing about 29 percent more viewers than CNN at the time.