What is happening to CNN?
Viewership for the once prominent network has been remarkably low.
Last week, CNN finished with just 383,000 viewers during primetime (20 cable networks finished with higher ratings).
Most alarming, perhaps, is CNN’s viewership amongst the most important demographic (as far as advertisers are concerned): 25-54 year old adults, “where the network finished with its smallest primetime audience…in over 30 years,” with just 80,000 viewers.
The last time CNN’s numbers were so low was September 30, 1991 – when George Bush Senior was in serving as president; ‘Good Vibrations’ by Marky Mark (now known as Mark Wahlberg) was the top song; and a Freddy Krueger movie led the box office.
The point is, CNN has been comfortably established for a long, long time. Yet now, the network appears to be trending toward oblivion.
Fox, who led all cable news networks, had 1.3 million day views and nearly 2 million primetime viewers during the same period. Amongst 25–54-year-olds, Fox had 219,000 viewers – nearly three times as many as CNN.
Why Is CNN Struggling?
“CNN’s primetime lineup has failed to resonate with viewers, and a gaping hole at 9 p.m. ET continues to cause problems as the network h as still not named a permanent replacement since Chris Cuomo was fired in 2021,” Fox News reported.
To fill in the “gaping hole,” CNN has experiment with a revolving door of “specials and town halls that have struggled to find an audience.”
“Last month, [CNN] decided to fill the pivotal hour with town-hall events and specials focusing on hot-button news topics, as well as interviews with prominent politicians and celebrities,” The Daily Beast reported.
So far, the new formatting has not caught on. Actually, the new formatting appears to be a bust – attracting a smaller audience than the already-paltry audiences that prompted the dramatic reformatting in the first place.
What does CNN’s townhalls and specials feature exactly? So far, the shows have considered the Ohio train derailment, fentanyl, the Russo-Ukraine War, antisemitism, and sit-downs with Bill Maher, Jill Biden, Glenn Youngkin, and Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mostly, the special coverage has flopped. “Other than the Maher interview with anchor Jake Tapper, which drew 821, 000 total viewers and 183,000 in the 25-54 demographic, none of the specials or town halls have matched the numbers brought in by Cooper or Burnett hosting the hour as a more conventional primetime broadcast,” The Daily Beast reported.
CNN’s next moves are unclear, although clearly, something needs to change.
CNN does still have a few reliable ponies – Anderson Cooper, for example. Whenever Cooper hosts the 9 p.m. primetime show, the ratings are alright, averaging 679,000 total viewers.
Anchor Erin Burnett also does well for the network, averaging 567,000 viewers when she hosts at 9 p.m.
So perhaps the fix is about personnel – and to that end, CNN has floated the idea of seeking external talent.
One name that keeps coming up: Charles Barkley. Barkley is an NBA legend who currently works as an analyst for Inside the NBA on TNT (and is often parodied by Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live). We’ll see what happens, however.
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Chris Licht, CNN’s new president “is having conversations with dozens of culturally relevant individuals from the worlds of news, sports, entertainment and comedy.” Perhaps one of those culturally relevant individuals is the key to getting CNN back to cultural relevance.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.