No, CNN Isn’t Dying in the Ratings

The narrative that CNN’s ratings are in free fall has been such a common narrative in non-Left media over the past week that I won’t embarrass anyone by singling them out.  But it’s a narrative that’s the opposite of “Fake, But Accurate” — more like “Real, But Inaccurate.”

What’s true is that CNN’s ratings were lower at the end of June than at the beginning of the month, going from 15 of all households to 0.8% of all households in primetime.  It’s also true that at the end of June, Nick-At-Nite reached a greater percentage of all households.

What’s also true is that in Q2 of 2017, CNN had more viewers, both in primetime and the total day, than it’s had in years.  I’m not generally a fan of Politifact, but here they simply asked Nielsen for the ratings data.  Politifact was told by experts that year-over-year quarterly data is generally how the industry makes these comparisons, which is confirmed if you read AdWeek or Variety on the subject.

Here’s how Variety reported the ratings:

“In total day, Fox News led with 1.47 million total viewers, up 27% from the same period last year. Of those, 314,000 fell in the adults 25-54 demographic, up 46% from last year. MSNBC was second in total viewers with 886,000, up 73%. MSNBC was third in total day in the demo, however, with 206,000 for an increase of 57%. CNN was third in total viewers with 788,000 for an increase of 25%, but second in the demo with 262,000 (up 39%).

“In Monday-Sunday primetime (8 p.m.-11 p.m. ET), Fox News maintained its comfortable lead over the competition with 2.35 million total viewers for an increase of 19% compared to the same period last year. Fox News was also first in the demo in primetime with an average of 472,000, up 34% from last year.


“MSNBC, meanwhile, is riding the wave of outrage at the Trump administration’s agenda with liberal commentators Maddow and O’Donnell. The NBCUniversal cabler was second in primetime in both measures with 1.64 million total viewers (up 86%) and 389,000 (up 78%). CNN was third with 1.06 million viewers for a 10% increase over last year, with 370,000 in the demo for a 19% increase over last year.”

Having previously written about how CNN has been debasing itself and becoming more like Pres. Trump, it’s hard to avoid noticing that non-Left media is capable of having similar lapses of accuracy when reporting on the competition.

Of course, that would be the point where I could tie the topic up in a nice bow, but there’s more.

Pretending that CNN is imploding when it clearly is not misleads readers, but it also is a convenient way to ignore a real media story here, which is the sharply rising numbers for MSNBC.  This is largely a branding story.  CNN has on a number of occasions clowned itself worse than MSNBC in its coverage of the Trump administration.  But sadly, MSNBC is likely benefiting more now from the perception that it is the (most) liberal cable newser, while CNN continues to suffer from the perception (correct or not) that it is the mushy middle channel (not for lack of trying by Jeff Zucker).

Fox News used to beat the ratings of MSMBC and CNN combined.  Now it does not in primetime.  No one knows whether that has any political meaning.  But if it means anything, its’ probably not good for the Right.

Lastly, it’s also a story about niche marketing.  A few million viewers here or there really doesn’t mean a ton in the vast scheme of things, even if we presume (as studies suggest) that news junkies tend to be influencers.  The media beat can be interesting, but we shouldn’t mistake an appetizer for a meal.

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