Not Even a New Boss Can Stop CNN’s Ratings Freefall

·5 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

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

Since officially taking over the network at the beginning of May, Chris Licht has already instituted sweeping changes at CNN in an effort to make it less politically divisive and more neutral in tone.

Following a tumultuous few months that saw the chaotic ouster of top-rated anchor Chris Cuomo and longtime chief Jeff Zucker, along with the immediate shuttering of its much-hyped and highly expensive streaming service, Licht came aboard with his work cut out for him. And from the outset, he promised that things were going to be very different at the cable news pioneer.

Speaking to potential advertisers in mid-May, Licht pledged that CNN would “seek to go a different way” during a time “where extremes are dominating cable news.” Since then, he has reportedly been evaluating CNN personalities who could be seen as too partisan, specifically hosts and commentators that are often viewed as liberal partisans.

Additionally, he has handed down a series of new guidelines to steer CNN’s new direction, including calling upon the network’s shows to reduce their use of “Breaking News” banners, saving the graphics for news that is actually breaking. Licht has also pleaded with producers to stop calling former President Donald Trump’s bogus election claims the “Big Lie,” telling them to instead use terms like “Trump election lie” or “election lies” to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

Yet, even as media critics and right-wing pundits have speculated that tacking to the middle could potentially increase viewership for CNN among more moderate and conservative viewers, the network has yet to see any such results in the short term.

In fact, the ratings have only continued to drop since the Licht era began.

“This premise is unfair and inaccurate. The only ‘sweeping change’ to programming in the past 60 days was a directive to be more selective about use of the breaking news banner. It would be absurd for anyone to expect that move alone to have an impact on ratings,” a CNN spokesperson told The Daily Beast after this article's publication.

For the month of June, and despite the Jan. 6 House committee holding several blockbuster hearings that should have been squarely in the channel’s wheelhouse, CNN actually lost viewership from the previous month. Worse yet, the network had already seen drops over the previous two months.

CNN’s primetime lineup only attracted 654,000 total viewers and 148,000 in the key advertising demographic of viewers aged 25-54—a 1-percent decline in both categories from May. And in total day viewership, CNN’s overall audience dropped to 487,000 while it attracted 104,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo, shedding 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Can’t get enough media news? Subscribe to Confider, the Daily Beast’s media newsletter here.

And during the week of June 13 to 19, which featured quite a bit of focus on the committee hearings, the network only averaged 480,000 viewers overall, a 13-percent drop from its May averages and the channel’s worst week since November 2015.

June 2022 was CNN’s lowest-rated month in total day viewership since July 2015.

By comparison, MSNBC saw big gains from the previous month as viewers appeared to flock to the channel not only to watch the Jan. 6 hearings but also to get analysis on the revelations.

Beyond the fact that no network averaged more viewers for the hearings than MSNBC’s audience of 3 million, it finished second in all of basic cable in total day viewership with 767,000 viewers, up 21 percent from May. MSNBC also notched a second-place showing in total primetime audience with 1.28 million, an increase of 26 percent from the month before. And while the older-skewing channel’s demo audiences were lower than CNN’s, MSNBC still enjoyed double-digit gains in both primetime (30 percent) and total day (23 percent).

In May, meanwhile, CNN dropped 5 percent in total primetime viewers (660,000) and 11 percent in the 25-54 primetime demographic (150,000) from April. It saw worse losses for the total day audience, suffering a 20 percent drop in the demo (106,000) and 14 percent in overall viewership (500,000). In both May and June, CNN ranked only 12th across basic cable in primetime.

Meanwhile, CNN’s audience freefall over the past two months is even more severe considering that the network’s April had already seen big drop-offs from March, which featured daily breaking news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The picture also looks fairly bleak for CNN when zoomed out to the second quarter of this year.

While both MSNBC and conservative cable giant Fox News both saw modest viewership declines compared to the first quarter of 2022, CNN saw double-digit drops across the board. And while Fox grew its audience from the Q2 2021, when it was first experiencing a rebound from its post-election slump, CNN saw significant losses compared to last year. (MSNBC, to be fair, also shrank considerably in all categories from 2021’s second-quarter numbers.)

Suffice to say, the continued erosion of CNN’s linear audience is almost certainly weighing on Licht’s mind. But he may have a solution.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Licht is exploring ways for the network to make money that aren’t as dependent on its Nielsen ratings. One potential plan would be to create individual news segments available for sponsorship by advertisers.

Subscribe to Confider, the Daily Beast’s media newsletter, and get juicy scoops in your inbox every week.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast here

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting