Like other cable news channels, CNN enjoyed huge ratings in the run-up to last year's presidential election. But the original 24-hour news channel seems to be doing less well than its more opinion-driven rivals now that Balloon Boy has replaced Barack Obama as the big story du jour.

As the October ratings period draws to a close, CNN is facing dizzying year-over-year drops in viewership for its prime-time shows, particularly in the age group advertisers target most avidly, adults 25 to 54. Its prime-time average in that demographic is down 78 percent versus October 2008, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. On a full-week basis, CNN is on pace to end up in a tie for third place with its own sister network, HLN, something that has yet to happen in 2009.
Of course, all the news networks are down on most measures from last October, when the election combined with the financial crisis to drive viewership to record levels. But CNN's losses are the steepest by far. By contrast, MSNBC's prime-time average in the 25-to-54 demo is down a comparatively milder 62 percent, while Fox News lost less than 36 percent of its viewers in that group. Both networks feature a much more opinion- and personality-driven format in prime time than CNN.

Asked about the viewership declines, a CNN spokeswoman responded with an emailed statement (which I've truncated somewhat):
CNN and HLN are both beating MSNBC in the key demographic for the month of October (total day). As we have said for years, we measure our audience across the day and across all of CNN's platforms, not just prime time. This is the basis for advertising sales. We're extremely pleased that we are the only news organization that has two television networks delivering large audiences thanks to the continued growth of HLN.
But CNN's share of the total-day 25-to-54 ratings pie is actually down 4 percent year-over-year, falling from 26 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, MSNBC is also down (from 20 to 17 percent), while Fox is up 6 percent, to 36 percent, and HLN is up 2 percent, to 16 percent.

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