In today’s volatile news cycles, cable news networks are constantly vying for the top spot in viewership and advertising dollars by delivering breaking news, providing historical analysis, and hosting spirited debate panels. The shifting political climate has begun to play a major role in the viewership and revenue capabilities of these networks.

To see the performance trends in cable news networks, the SQAD Data Team pulled scatter costs from the MediaCosts: National database for CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from the first six months of 2018. The team focused on scatter pricing to better analyze reactionary pricing volatility based on changing events, rather than the steady long-term investments made in the upfront buying season.

This report starts with a pure unit cost analysis of the networks from January 2018 through June 2018 for the Morning and Primetime dayparts. The second part of this report dives into a Cost Volatility Score analysis, for the same two dayparts.




Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
JAN $2,045 $3,686 $2,246
FEB $1,405 -31.3% $3,817 3.6% $2,384 6.1%
MAR $2,297 63.5% $4,374 14.6% $2,522 5.8%
APR $1,531 -33.3% $3,640 -16.8% $3,991 58.2%
MAY $2,207 44.2% $3,868 6.3% $3,332 -16.5%
JUN $1,121 -49.2% $3,937 1.8% $2,950 -11.5%


  • At the beginning of the year, Fox News held the highest scatter unit cost for the Morning block, with an average of $3,686 for the month of January. CNN trailed behind by 45% and MSNBC by 40%.
  • Of the three networks, MSNBC experienced the most significant increase in scatter ad costs over the course of the six months. By June, costs on the network averaged $2,950, a 31% spike from January.
  • From January to June, ad costs on:
    • CNN dropped 45%
    • Fox News increased 7%
    • MSNBC jumped 31%
  • Although Fox News hit a high of $4,374 in March, it did not recover to that rate for the rest of Q2 2018.
  • MSNBC hit its highest point of $3,991 in April (taking the top spot from Fox News for the first time since the beginning of the year) but did not maintain that unit cost for the rest of Q2.
  • Going into the new quarter from March to April, average ad costs fell 17% on Fox News and 33% on CNN, while rising 58% for MSNBC.




Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
Unit Cost Month/Month
% Change
JAN $7,192 $8,285 $5,927
FEB $7,384 2.7% $7,679 -7.3% $5,666 -4.4%
MAR $9,327 26.3% $8,119 5.7% $11,569 104.2%
APR $11,440 22.7% $10,739 32.3% $11,126 -3.8%
MAY $10,198 -10.9% $10,208 -4.9% $10,308 -7.4%
JUN $9,451 -7.3% $10,095 -1.1% $13,550 31.5%


  • At the start of the year, Fox News held the spot for highest Primetime scatter ad costs, averaging $8,285 in January – 13% higher than CNN and 29% higher than MSNBC.
  • For the month of April, 2018 CNN briefly took the top spot for scatter unit costs, edging out MSNBC by 3% and Fox News by 6%.
  • From January to June, MSNBC prices saw the largest unit cost jump of the three networks, skyrocketing 129% and averaging $13,550 in June – 30% higher than CNN and 26% higher than Fox News.
  • While ad prices oscillated throughout the first six months of this year, all three networks saw an overall increase from January to June. Comparing January to June, prices on:
    • CNN rose 31%
    • Fox News increased 22%
    • MSNBC more than doubled, jumping 129%


While looking purely at unit costs can provide insight into the revenue power of a given network, there is more to be said regarding the transformation of the cable news landscape when we review the cost volatility during the same six month period. Analyzing the three cable news networks from their starting point in January 2018 and calculating the percentage differential month-to-month shows the real magnitude of the unit cost shifts over time.

To calculate the SQAD Cost Volatility Score, we measured the change in growth/loss each network experiences month-to-month. The Score allows us to equalize the unit cost changes in order to see a larger trend in the networks’ market impact over time.


JAN 0.0 0.0 0.0
FEB -31.3 3.6 6.1
MAR 32.2 18.1 11.9
APR -1.2 1.4 70.2
MAY 43.0 7.6 53.7
JUN -6.2 9.4 42.2


  • Based on volatility in the Morning daypart, Fox News maintained their average market position, gaining +9.4 volatility points from January to June.
  • While CNN had a seemingly unstable market fluctuation, when the change in growth is equalized, it is only down 6.2 points from their starting position in January 2018.
  • The growth in market strength is best illustrated in MSNBC’s volatility scores as it ended the six-month period with +42.2 points, reaching a peak of +70.2 points in April 2018.
  • For Fox News, the market gains from March 2018 (when it had a volatility score of +18.1) were counteracted by the equally steep 16.7 point drop into April, bringing it down to a volatility score of +1.4.



JAN 0.0 0.0 0.0
FEB 2.7 -7.3 -4.4
MAR 29.0 -1.6 99.8
APR 51.6 30.7 96.0
MAY 40.8 25.7 88.6
JUN 33.5 24.6 120.0


  • In the first six months of 2018, all three cable news networks increased in market value.
  • Initial drops in Q1 2018 for Fox News were recovered in Q2, allowing the network to rebound to a +24.6 volatility score in June.
  • CNN maintained an overall positive volatility index for the entire six month period, ending June 2018 at a +33.5.
  • MSNBC experienced the most significant market strength gains overall, ending June 2018 with a commanding +120 volatility score.