It was a very poor month for CNN. After a continuing investigation into Chris Cuomo, prime time anchor at CNN, revealed a consensual relationship between CNN chief marketing officer Allison Gollust and Cuomo, , the network’s talisman leader, Jeff Zucker , , he resigned under pressure . In an email to CNN staff, Zucker stated that he was not required to reveal the relationship when it started. I was wrong. “I am resigning today because I was wrong.”
The exit of Zucker has resulted in several damaging reports. Gollust was forced to resign by CNN on February 15. She claims she did not violate journalistic norms by passing suggested questions to Cuomo, for whom she had previously worked, to network producers.
A Nielsen review of ratings data shows that the network’s internal chaos is being reflected in a decline in viewership across all parts of the day, including prime time and total day. The average prime-time audience of viewers aged 25-54, the key demographic that advertisers value most, was just 126,000 through February 15. This is a 69% decrease from the previous year. The average audience among total viewers was 534,000. This is a 68% decrease from 2021.
CNN is fair in stating that cable news viewership dropped from one year ago. The fallout from the 2020 elections and the attack on the U.S. Capitol drove high viewership. MSNBC experienced a 62% decline in viewers aged 25-54 and a 47% decrease among all viewers. Fox News Channel was the only cable news channel to see an increase in viewership, up 6% in key demos and 2% among total viewers, compared to the same time in 2021.
CNN’s February ratings performance was its best ever. It seemed like it was on the brink of overthrowing Fox News Channel, which has held its unrivalled position as the cable news channel’s ratings leader. In the key demo, CNN drew an average audience with 411,000 viewers. FNC (3565,000 viewers) followed by MSNBC (340,000 viewers). Fox News was the first to reach 2.473 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC had 2.193 million viewers and CNN had 1.687 million.
Last year, Cuomo prime time was the network’s most popular hour. It drew a 466,000 average audience in February 2021. This made it fourth among cable news viewers aged 25-54 behind MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and FNC’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. However, ratings for the 9 p.m. hour have dropped since Cuomo’s firing in December. The ET hour has seen a drop of 56% in key demos and 53% overall.
CNN’s 9 pm hour has seen a 14% decline in total viewers and key demo viewers since February. CNN’s 9 pm hour has also lost almost three-quarters its audience compared to one year ago. CNN’s 9 PM has dropped 74% among total viewers, and 73% among key demo viewers.
The ratings slide continues in the wake of Zucker’s departure. According to Nielsen ratings data, CNN’s prime-time ratings fell 20% between February 2nd and February 15. This is compared to December 27th through February 1st. The same period saw a 15% decline in viewers aged 25-54.
CNN’s ratings declines add to the drama. There is no replacement for 9 p.m., and it feels like the network has lost its leadership and is drifting since Zucker’s abrupt resignation. CNN had been heavily advertising the impending launch of its long-awaited streaming service, CNN+. The network had been recruiting both technical and editorial staff from New York as well as prominent hosts to the shows in the weeks prior to Zucker’s resignation. CNN+ was a project that Zucker had advanced, and its future is now in question.
The merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery, CNN’s parent company, is threatening to add to the chaos at CNN. This will give Discovery CEO David Zaslav control over CNN, Warner Bros. and HBO. It is unclear what his vision of the network will look like, and how it will be formatted.
Zaslav may be concerned by another ratings trend: CNN’s long-standing claim to be the most popular cable news network for major news. CNN has been the network that viewers turn to when there is major news, war, or terrorism for 40 years. But recent ratings data shows that this has changed.
When a Dallas-Fort Worth-area rabbi was taken hostage along with three members of his Dallas synagogue, Fox News Channel’s ratings during ongoing coverage in Texas more than doubled those of CNN. Fox News’ live coverage of President Biden’s second formal press conference was second among viewers 25-54 but third among total viewers.