CNN Ratings Sink Like a Rock

The Worst Month in 20 Years

Nielsen ratings figures in May showed the worst month in nearly 20 years for CNN. An unheard of 50 percent loss of viewer share since the ratings service charted them a year ago.

The first cable news network which led the way for today’s 24-hour news cycle in the early 1980s was the top-rated news channel for years. Eventually they lost their devoted audience to the hard-charging Fox News and to a much lesser extent, MSNBC.

CNN now lags far behind both outlets and continues to head south. It’s recent turn to the middle of the political dialog has ended up hurting their ratings. Many critics of the news organization jokingly accused CNN as standing for the “Clinton News Network.”

Facing sinking ratings to its rivals, CNN attempted to capture the middle of the political debate.

The network’s average audience in May fell to 388,000, with only 113,000 in the 25-54 age bracket that national advertisers covet as the holy grail. On the other side of the coin, Fox’s average was 1.65 million and MSNBC’s was 658,000.

“It’s really a bloodletting – there’s no other way to describe it,” said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “They are trying to stick to old-fashioned, unbiased news broadcasting when their rivals have worked out that to draw an audience when there aren’t major stories breaking you need to do the opposite.”

Piers Morgan, hired 19 months ago for the 9 pm time slot, replacing the legendary Larry King, attracted an average of 417,000 viewers in May, the worst ratings for that hour since 1991 according to The Independent, a London-based website. When Morgan took the helm in early 2011, he inherited an average around 600,000 viewers a night.

The ousted Larry King must be muffling a chuckle with his very public dismissal.

CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper

Worse yet, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper has lost nearly a quarter of his viewers the past year while ratings for Wolf Blitzer’s two-hour “Situation Room” are down by more than half.

This all indicates the changing political views of the country. Fox News Network has clearly captured the hearts and minds of the American viewing public. The O’Reilly Report, a weekday prime time news analysis program, has been number one in it’s 8 pm time slot the past 15 years. Sean Hannity’s news and opinion program that follows O’Reilly has double Morgan’s audience 9 pm audience.

There is clearly a changing of the guard in television news that can be seen with the three network news shows. ABC, CBS and NBC have seen a steady drop in viewership the past two decades as the 24-hour news cycle has made half-hour presentations incomplete. Viewers want more depth in 2012.

With the change in viewer habits and the rise of conservative Fox News, one has to wonder what impact that will have with a left-leaning liberal v moderate conservative in the November’s presidential election.

Dwight L. Schwab Jr. is a moderate conservative who looks at all sides of a story, then speaks his mind. He has written more than 3500 national political and foreign affairs columns. His BS in journalism from the University of Oregon, with minors in political science and American history stands him in good stead for his writing.


Dwight has 30-years in the publishing industry, including ABC/Cap Cities and International Thomson. His first book, “Redistribution of Common Sense – Selective Commentaries on the Obama Administration 2009-2014,” was published in July, 2014. “The Game Changer – America’s Most Stunning Presidential Election in History,” was published in April 2017.


Dwight is a native of Portland, Oregon, and now a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area.