TV Viewership Grows in August as Late Afternoon Viewing Time Surges

Samba TV
4 min readSep 17, 2020

By Becca Fine, Senior Research Manager in Insights at Samba TV

As Americans enjoyed the fleeting days of this truly unique summer, more households watched TV in August than any other month this summer, according to Samba TV data.

We looked at 27 popular TV networks and found that the number of unique U.S. households that watched TV in August was 2% higher than it was in June or July. It was also 1% higher than it was in August 2019, marking the first month this summer that saw a year-over-year increase in total household tune-in.

A closer look at the number reveals big gains at certain times of the day. Time spent watching the Early Fringe daypart (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) increased 35% compared to August 2019, and was also up 3% from July 2020. News and sports programming drove the increase, with CNN and TNT remarkably up between 150%-200% year-over-year during that daypart specifically.

The past month saw live sports heating up, with pro basketball and hockey playing out of season and other major live sports events converging. This showcased added viewership across networks carrying the games.

TNT’s successful increase in viewership was largely driven by NBA basketball, which is being played at an unusual time of the year, and with games tipping off earlier in the day. The NBA season resumed on July 30 and, for the second month in a row, the NBA’s broadcast partner TNT was one of a few networks to see an increase in reach during August, both compared to previous summer months and year-over-year.

Meanwhile, news networks remain a high priority for viewers, especially with both the democratic and republican conventions in August. This was particularly true of conservative viewers, as Fox News attracted more households and more time spent than it had a year ago. As we move into the fall and election season, news networks will likely continue to be big winners.

Let’s take a closer look at some of our findings in August.

Liberal news networks up in reach, down in consumption. In conjunction with the DNC, 17% more distinct households watched CNN in August than July, and 36% more watched MSNBC. However, overall time spent viewing those networks dropped 5% and 3%, respectively, indicating that although more people watched, they spent less time doing so. Conversely, FOX News saw both reach and consumption increase year-over-year.

Maintained interest — and dollars spent — on premium content. Outside of news networks, Showtime saw the greatest increase in year-over-year reach of any network surveyed. Its reach was up 29% year-over-year, and consumption was up 34%, indicating that people are increasingly willing to pay for access.

Fall premieres debut and the award season kicks off. Big Brother’s delayed premiere on August 5 saw 1.8M U.S. households tuning in and an approximate 3% increase in viewership from their 2019 premiere. Shark Week also drove viewership with almost 11M unique U.S. households tuning in to Discovery throughout the week. And, with the fall awards season ramping up, the MTV Video Music Awards aired with 4.1M U.S. households tuning in, down 8% from 2019. Hispanic and African-American households over-indexed significantly for this awards event, as well as those in the Gen X demographic.

Caucasian households are watching more TV than the U.S. as a whole, while Asian and Hispanic households are under-indexing. Of the 27 networks surveyed, Asian households over-indexed in viewership on only CNN. Hispanic households over-indexed on only 5 networks, while Caucasian households did so on 20.

African-Americans make up a larger share of conservative news viewers than last year. The fraction of FOX News viewers that were African-American increased by 19% year-over-year.

High-income earning households are increasingly interested in cooking shows. The rate at which households earning between $125K-$150K per year over-indexed against the US in viewership on The Cooking Channel and Food Network increased by 238% and 59%, respectively, between August 2020 and August 2019.

Networks studied: ABC, Bravo, CBS, Cinemax, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Disney Channel, E!, CNN, ESPN, FOX, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, Food Network, FX, HBO, History, HGTV, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, Nickelodeon, Showtime, TNT, TBS, Travel Channel, USA

While some consumer habits have begun to set in after several months at home amid the pandemic, our viewership data reveals that TV is still undergoing a metamorphosis, one that will likely continue well into the fall and winter. As the NBA and NHL launch into finals, the MLB, NCAA football, and NFL all kick into high gear over the next month or two offering a truly unique view into how sports fans consume their favorites all at once. And, with the election moving closer, we expect news networks will remain a high priority for viewers throughout the next few months.

Samba TV will continue to look at shifting audience viewing habits as we head into 2020’s unique fall TV landscape, giving our partners the analytics they need to make informed decisions in this unprecedented TV season.



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