Fox News finds itself in unaccustomed spot _ out of first

As Trump unravels, so do Fox's ratings

For years, MSNBC was the perpetual third-place network after Fox News and CNN. The audience spikes appeared to be driven by a series of news breaks surrounding the government's ongoing investigation into Russian interference with USA elections, and suspicion that Trump campaign staffers could have had some involvement. For the same time period, MSNBC averaged 2.4 million total views during the weekday, with Fox in second at 2.41 million and CNN third with 1.65 million. (That's in the demo and total viewers.) But with CNN and MSNBC on its heels in different dayparts, this last week will prove to be make-or-break for all parties. But the race has tightened considerably.

For the week of May 15, MSNBC averaged 611,000 viewers in the sought-after adults ages 25-54 demographic. In May 2016, Fox led CNN by 79,000 viewers and MSNBC by 160,000 in the category.

The latest numbers mark the first time in its 21-year history that MSNBC's prime-time programming has taken the top spot with respect to audiences in the age range most important to advertisers.

What's so shocking about Fox News' ratings woes is how swift the downward movement has been.

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Imagine TheBlaze TV with founder Glenn Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity anchoring a prime-time lineup, as they did for Fox News from 2008 to 2011. With Bill O'Reilly now out of play in the 8 o'clock time slot for more than a month, Cooper placed No. 1 for the hour Monday through Friday.

Anderson Cooper led the way for CNN, winning his 8 p.m. slot for "AC 360" for five straight days last week over Fox and MSNBC.

But the new lineup could not withstand a news cycle that was likely tough for its Trump-supporting conservative viewers to watch.

"They have a problem", O'Reilly said. "Tucker is more of a prosecutor". Simultaneously, Fox News Channel posted its first five-day streak at No. 3 in primetime since 2000.

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Will Fox News stabilize and return to dominance, or will a conservative rival snag O'Reilly and maybe even Hannity and become a viable competitor?

Breaking-news coverage tends to upset ongoing trends. The attack outside of an Ariana Grande concert, where 22 people were killed, dominated cable news coverage across all three major channels.

A prolonged scandal could continue to propel MSNBC to higher ratings over the long haul.

Fox shares have dropped 4.4 percent this year, compared with a 6 percent gain for the S&P 500 Media Index. More revelations about Flynn followed, along with the naming of a special prosecutor for the Russian investigation. But on the Fox News side, they made their decisions.

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It was uniquely bad timing for Fox.

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