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CNN Notches 24th Consecutive Week Without Hitting a Million Viewers in Poor Ratings Streak

Mediaite logo Mediaite 8/11/2021 Caleb Howe
Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, Brianna Keilar are posing for a picture: Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, and Brianna Keilar are all on CNN shows with declining ratings. © Provided by Mediaite Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, and Brianna Keilar are all on CNN shows with declining ratings.

In the ratings decline race, CNN’s 2021 has hit several notable milestones, including a pair of ill-boding low streaks topped by a recent particularly bad seven-day period.

For the week of July 28 to August 3, CNN’s ratings failed to hit 1 million total viewers for each of seven consecutive days.

The high-water mark for that week was when viewers tuned in to see if Chris Cuomo would discuss his brother Andrew Cuomo’s scandal after the devastating Attorney General’s report (he didn’t).

The average for the week was 858,000, a major decline since January of 2021, when the network surged to first in the cable news ratings race.

Seven days without hitting the mark is a bad number, but the week’s average coming in lower than a million is by no means an isolated incident. In fact, Nielsen ratings show CNN has averaged below a million in both the ‘Total Day’ and ‘Prime Time’ averages 14 consecutive weeks this year so far.

In just total day, the results are even worse, with 24 consecutive weeks not hitting the mark. That’s out of 31 total weeks.

By comparison, in Donald Trump’s first full year in office (2017), CNN’s streak when counting total day and prime time was only six weeks (they are at 14 in August this year) though the network went 49 consecutively under a million on total day. In 2019, also a non-election year, it was a 21-week streak combining total day and prime, and they went all 52 weeks that year in total day. Having climbed out of that hole by the end of 2020 (and into 2021) they have rapidly returned.

In 2020, the biggest year in CNN’s 40-year ratings history, it was just two consecutive weeks.

By way of comparison, it has been almost three years since FNC delivered a week with an average below 1 million. It was the week of December 24th, Christmas week, in 2018.

Streaks aside, CNN’s bad July actually saw the network’s lowest total day ratings in the advertiser-coveted adults 25-54 demo since 2014. And though there was some small growth in total viewers for July over June of this year (+3%), there was a decline in demo over the same month (down 6%).

Comparing July 2021 against the last post-election year, CNN is down -12% in total day and a gigantic -42% in the demo as compared to July 2017.

The second quarter of 2021 comes in with an overall average of below 1 million in total viewers on total day 654,000. They hit 914,000 for prime. That’s not just a decline from 2020 but dramatically down compared against earlier this year.

If you’re confused why the number would be lower in total day than a day part, it’s because these represent averages. So if you pulled 500,000 in dayside ratings (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and 1.5 million in prime time (8 p.m.-11 p.m.) your average on total day would be 1,000,000 viewers.

It is that average that the 24-hours news network has missed the mark consistently and in consecutive weeks. A 14-week streak means that if you average the day’s viewers, and average just the prime time viewers, CNN went 14 weeks missing the mark in BOTH averages.

A considerable shake-up in early January knocked perennial ratings leader Fox News down a peg, in what may have looked at the time like an opportunity for CNN to break the network’s dominance. However, that has decidedly turned out not to be the case, with the big sub-million streak starting just weeks later on February 15.

The descent in those numbers over this year has been an object of fascination online. The first quarter of 2021 was a roller-coaster. MSNBC finished Q1 in first for total viewers in total day (across all of cable, not just cable news) and CNN was number two. The margins were narrow, with 1.38 million for MSNBC in first and 1.34 million for Fox in third.

But CNN did take the top spot in the first quarter when it comes to total day average in the key 25-54 demo, the first time the network has done so in 12 years.

However, prime time still belonged to Fox News in Q1 at 2.58 million total viewers. That was by a wider margin than total day, with CNN in third at 1.94.

The January news cycle contributed to the high ratings for all the networks, and that bubble was bound to burst. MSNBC, for example, shed -38% in total day viewers and fell -35% in prime time. Fox News dropped too, falling -10% in total viewers and -12% in prime.

But the drop from Q1 to Q2 for CNN could not have been more dramatic. The network fell –51% in total viewers and -53% in prime time.

It is a marked decline.

There are individual poor performers for the network. New Day, for example, continues to plummet in ratings despite revamping the show to have more attitude — or because of doing that?

July saw a 1.1 million average for Fox & Friends, with 200,000 in the demo. Morning Joe came in for July with 903,000 and 117k in demo.

CNN’s New Day, though, was at less than half of Fox’s numbers, with a mere 450k viewers during the same hours, and a paltry 84,000 in the demo. That is a devastating number.

Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources on Sunday has had down year, too, and the host has taken more public heat for it than other hosts, considering that media is the subject of his show and Fox the object of his ire.

Aside from specific show’s with poor performance, CNN has some stand-out lows in specific demographics, one of which affects the network’s typical top performer.

Among female viewers, CNN’s latest sub-million week was especially bad, thanks in large part to the network’s ratings flagship Cuomo Prime Time.

The total day ratings are a 24-hour period, from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. Meaning the last day of that week’s ratings began on August 3 and ended on August 4th in the morning. That encompasses the day that NY Attorney General Letitia James delivered the results of the investigation into Gov. Cuomo, a day when anchor Chris Cuomo’s name trended on social media for at least that 24-hour period.

Fox News Channel led all of cable shows that day among female viewers, with The Five, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity the three most-watched shows.

CNN’s top show among female viewers was Cuomo Prime Time, which came in behind 8 MSNBC shows and 14 Fox News shows, not to mention Little People, Big World, Dr. Pimple Popper, The Real Housewives of NYC, Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death, and something called Breaking Bland.

With those factors at play, and the Q1 to Q2 ratings burst, CNN has declined 66% in total viewers and a dramatic 73% in the demo on the year to date.

Several times this year and from multiple publications, the topic of declining TV news ratings has been in the news. Donald Trump has commented on it, and President Joe Biden’s White House has blamed a loss of ratings for “irresponsible” coverage of the Delta variant. So the decline in ratings isn’t exactly insider baseball or simply the minutiae of the moment.

Forbes reports this week that CNN has lost ground in a viewer “Trust” survey since last year as well, along with MSNBC. (Fox gained in viewer trust over last year according to those results.) That finding is supported by Gallup polls and Poynter findings and even just simple observation.

Declining trust in media in general, and cable networks like CNN in particular, must certainly contribute to the ratings nosedive. Also at play are transitioning from election year to non-election year, and general viewership dropping as the pandemic and lockdowns end.

But CNN’s impressively bad streak stands out even in that landscape. Revamped shows pulling record lows and the top program embroiled in an outside controversy don’t help.

Strictly from an analysis standpoint, dedicating such a large share of CNN air time to reporting on what is happening at dominant competitor Fox News is doing seems a counter-intuitive strategy at best. But, as a factor, that’s really just a symptom of the Big Why.

The giant, loudmouth elephant in the room is Trump. All the networks suffer with ratings magnet Trump becoming less and less the story. But CNN was going to feel that hit worse than any after having made the conscious and public choice to be the anti-Trump network, the Trump Opposition News.

The pure, uncut cocaine that is Trump simply cannot be replaced with a knock-off brand. You can’t switch Trump with Tucker and get the same high. It is demonstrably not working.

It remains to be seen how this week’s averages will turn out. The August 4 to August 10 week ends today. There could be another fluke, such as we saw in early January, or they could add to the streak. Either way, there is no doubt that this has not been a banner ratings year for CNN, to say the absolute least.

*Ratings data sources: Nielsen Media, Adweek, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Mediaite.

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