CNN, Thirty Years Later

The first quarter of 2012 has just ended, and CNN's results were disappointing. It finished third among the three news networks, down 21% in total day and 6% in primetime, despite hosting a host of GOP debates. FoxNews was down 5% in total day, and 1% in prime, while MSNBC lost 3% in total day and actually gained 1% in prime. As usual, Fox had more total viewers than either of the other two networks in both categories, with more than both combined in total day.

CNN did no better in the total day demographics, while MSNBC was down 7% and Fox was down 10%, CNN dropped 24% behind last years' numbers in the key 25-54 category. CNN, probably due to the debates, did better in primetime, dropping only 7%, while Fox and MSNBC were both down 11%.

CNN's March numbers suffered much more. Last year, with the Libyan war raging and Mubarak under hospital arrest, CNN averaged 1,081,000 viewers in primetime. This March, they averaged 591,000, a decrease of 45%. Fox was down only 10%, and MSNBC only 1%. These numbers demonstrate, once again, that occasional viewers do turn to CNN when big stories break, but desert the network once the story is over. The numbers were even worse in the 25-54 category, with CNN down 55%, Fox down 20% and MSNBC down 8%.

In March, CNN lagged behind MSNBC in every category, from total audience to 18-34 year olds, but it did manage to edge past Fox with the younger audience -- the 18 to 34s. CNN had 46,000 viewers while Fox averaged 44,000, a number that seems shockingly small, but in reality reveals the lack of interest in television news among younger viewers. Maybe they've all switched to the internet. Perhaps MSNBC has some special way to reach them--it averaged 72,000 viewers, up 6% from last March, while CNN lost 48% and FoxNews, 41%.

Thirty years ago, when only household (not number of persons) ratings were available, CNN had a total day rating of 1 full point -- that's 150,000 homes in a universe of 15,000,000 households. In March this year, according to Nielsen, CNN averaged 316,000 households -- that's twice as many viewers in a household universe seven times as large. The network continues to struggle to regain the loyal audience it once had.

CNN makes a lot of money -- it delivers a very lucrative news service to television stations and systems around the world. Hotels worldwide pay CNN substantial sums to carry CNN International in all their hotel rooms. Restaurants, bars and airports pay CNN fees to show it on their premises. It owns half an Indian network, and part of a Turkish network. It is a major brand worldwide, but it's in third place on its home turf.