Even a new boss can’t stop the free fall of CNN’s ratings

CNN’s ratings woes continue, even with a whole new vision and a different boss at the helm.

Since Chris Licht officially took over the network in early May, he has already made sweeping changes to CNN to make it less politically divisive and more neutral.

After a tumultuous few months that saw high-profile presenter Chris Cuomo and longtime boss Jeff Zucker chaotically ousted, along with the immediate shutdown of his much-vaunted and very expensive streaming service, light came on board with his work clipping for him was. And he promised from the start that things would be very different with the cable news pioneer.

Speaking to potential advertisers in mid-May, Licht vowed that at a time “when extremes dominate cable news,” CNN will “try to take a different route.” He has since reportedly rated CNN personalities who might be seen as overly partisan, particularly anchors and commentators, who are often seen as liberal partisans.

He also shared a number of new guidelines to guide CNN’s new direction, including asking the network’s broadcasts to reduce their use of “breaking news” banners and to keep the graphics for news that are actually breaking news . Licht has also asked producers to stop calling former President Donald Trump’s bogus election claims a “big lie” and instead use terms like “Trump election lie” or “election lies” to avoid any appearance of partisanship.

But while media critics and right-wing pundits have speculated that moving closer to the center could potentially increase viewership for CNN among more moderate and conservative viewers, the network has yet to see such results in the short-term.

In fact, ratings have been steadily declining since the light era began.

For the month of June, and even though the House Committee held several blockbuster hearings on Jan. 6 that should have taken place right in the station’s wheelhouse, CNN actually lost viewership from the previous month. Worse, the network had already seen dips in the past two months.

CNN’s primetime offering attracted just 654,000 total viewers and 148,000 in its key advertising demographic of viewers aged 25 to 54 — a 1 percent decrease in both categories from May. And in terms of total daily viewership, CNN’s total viewership fell to 487,000 while it attracted 104,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo, down 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

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And for the week of June 13-19, which saw much of the focus on committee hearings, the network as a whole only averaged 480,000 viewers, down 13 percent from the May average and the channel’s worst week since November 2015

June 2022 was CNN’s lowest viewership month since July 2015.

In comparison, MSNBC saw big month-on-month gains as viewers appeared to have flocked to the channel not only to watch the Jan. 6 hearings, but also to get analysis on the revelations.

Aside from the fact that no network averaged more viewers for the hearings than MSNBC’s viewership of 3 million, it ranked second on all basic cable’s 767,000 daily viewers with 767,000 viewers, up 21 percent from May. MSNBC also ranked second with 1.28 million prime-time viewers, a 26 percent increase from the previous month. And while the older channel’s demo audience was lower than CNN’s, MSNBC still saw double-digit gains in both prime-time (30 percent) and all-day (23 percent).

In May, on the other hand, CNN lost 5 percent in total primetime viewership (660,000) and 11 percent in the 25- to 54-year-old primetime demographic (150,000) compared to April. It posted worse losses for its total daytime audience, suffering a 20 percent drop in demo (106,000) and 14 percent in total viewership (500,000). In both May and June, CNN ranked only 12th on basic cable in prime time.

Meanwhile, the free fall of CNN’s audience over the past two months is even more serious considering the network’s April already saw major drops from March, which saw daily breaking news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

For CNN, too, the picture looks pretty bleak when zooming out to the second quarter of this year.

While both MSNBC and conservative cable giant Fox News saw a slight decline in viewership compared to the first quarter of 2022, CNN saw double-digit declines across the board. And while Fox grew its audience starting in the second quarter of 2021, when it first saw a rebound from its post-election slump, CNN posted significant year-over-year losses. (To be fair, MSNBC has also shrunk significantly across all categories from its Q2 2021 numbers.)

Suffice it to say that the ongoing erosion of CNN’s linear audience is almost certainly preoccupying Licht. But maybe he has a solution.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Licht was looking at ways the network could make money that isn’t as dependent on its Nielsen ratings. One possible plan would be to create individual news segments that can be sponsored by advertisers.

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