CNN in Last Place – Behind MSNBC Reruns!

CNN has dropped to fourth place in the cable news business it invented. And Fox continues to rise while under fire from the administration.

cable-news-ratingsCNN, which invented the cable news network more than two decades ago, will hit a new competitive low with its prime-time programs in October, finishing fourth — and last — among the cable news networks with the audience that all the networks rely on for their advertising. The official monthly numbers will be finalized at 4 p.m. Monday and will include results from Friday. CNN executives conceded that will not change the competitive standing for the month. CNN will still be last in prime time.

That means CNN’s programs were behind not only Fox News and MSNBC, but even its own sister network HLN (formerly Headline News.) Three of its four shows between 7 and 11 p.m. finished fourth and last among the cable news networks. That was the first time CNN had finished that poorly with its prime-time shows.

The results demonstrate once more the apparent preference of viewers for opinion-oriented shows from the news networks in prime time. CNN has steered opinion hosts like Nancy Grace to HLN, while maintaining more news-oriented shows on CNN itself. When news events are not being intensely followed, CNN executives acknowledge, viewers seem to be looking for partisan views more than objective coverage.

Individually, the CNN shows were beaten resoundingly by all the Fox News programs, but also lost to all of the MSNBC programs, including a repeat of Keith Olbermann’s 8 p.m. edition of “Countdown,” which beat the 10 p.m. hour of CNN’s signature prime-time program, “Anderson Cooper 360.” Again that was a first. Mr. Cooper had 211,000 viewers to 223,000 for Mr. Olbermann’s repeat. That meant Mr. Cooper finished fourth and last in the 10 p.m. hour because, besides being well behind the leader, Greta Van Susteren, who had 538,000 viewers, he was also beaten by a repeat of Nancy Grace’s 8 p.m. show on HLN, which averaged 222,000.


CNN executives emphasized that the network continues to draw more viewers than all its competitors except Fox News when all hours of the day are counted. CNN released a statement Monday saying, “CNN’s ratings are always going to be more dependent on the news environment, much more so than opinion-based programming especially in prime time.”

Now, of course, none of this answers the question as to whether Fox is a news network or a partisan outlet.  (In my opinion — granted, as someone who has all but stopped watching television news in recent years — it’s both.)  But it does show what the people want to see.

I personally find most of the cable news hosts insipid, if not grating.  (The exceptions, ironically, are the faux anchors Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who manage to be smart and charming even while being partisan.)  But it’s human nature to prefer routine.  So, people who are in the mood for public affairs chat during prime time will naturally gravitate to their favorite news personality on at that hour and make that appointment viewing.

Indeed, the preference for host-based, periodic program over “whatever’s happening now” goes beyond news.  ESPN’s most popular programs are “Pardon the Interruption” and its lead-in “Around the Horn.”  Viewers — certainly, this viewer — are annoyed when “PTI” is pre-empted for some live sporting event such as the Little League World series or, say, women’s golf.   And the music channels all moved from showing videos of popular songs to more routine, familiar programming.

This is even more understandable in the Internet age.  People who are interested in news — whether about public affairs, sports, or the weather — can get it when they want it, how they want it.  There’s no longer much point in waiting for the 6:30 or 11:00 news.   Even shows like “SportsCenter,” which were a godsend 20 years ago, are now boring blather since it’s an hour talking about things viewers knew about hours earlier.  Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that they chopped off the last five minutes of “PTI” and hide it somewhere during the ensuing “SportsCenter” episode, forcing people to either miss the end of the show or watch a show they otherwise wouldn’t.  (Or, in my case, TiVo “PTI” for 90 minutes and fast-forward though both the commercials and non-“PTI” segments of “SportsCenter.”)

Postscript:  In terms of sheer business, it’s conceivable that CNN is making a good decision here.  They’ve essentially divided their network into two components, so  CNN and HLN both contribute to the bottom line.  The question is whether the amount of money spent on retaining name brand hosts 1) pays for itself in higher ratings and 2) offsets the cost of covering the news.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    I love that the Communist News Network is last in the rankings!

    It shows that the American people reject liberal bias and the enablers of B. Hussein.

    Hopefully, Ted “kennedy” Turner and his girlfriend Hanoi Jane will move they operation to North Korea where they belong.

  2. Brian Knapp says:

    I personally find most of the cable news hosts insipid, if not grating.

    Indeed. The worst part is, the less relevant the format becomes, the louder and more obnoxious the personalities tend to be.

  3. One thing I’ve noticed is CNN (which I must say I generally prefer) seems less prone to histrionics than its competitors. This isn’t to say there’s no bias, just that they’re less blatantly appealing to emotion.

    CNN’s falling ratings could be another sign of the growing intellectual laziness on the part of most of the American public.

  4. Franklin says:

    I also prefer CNN over the more partisan and hysterical Fox and MSNBC. But even on CNN, they led the way in balloon boy coverage.

  5. Jerry says:

    News about news… I can’t wait for news about news about news. And even in this absurdity, we have retards to mention communism.

  6. Wayne says:

    I try to watch CNN on occasion just to get another point of view. What I get is a liberal reporter with a liberal quest and for balance another liberal quest. CNN is unbiased my butt. They had a hissy fit when Bush won with one female reporter almost breaking down in tears. They may try to present themselves as impartial reporters but they are far from it.

  7. William d'Inger says:

    growing intellectual laziness on the part of most of the American public.

    Growing??? I’m 66 years old and I can’t remember any time the public ever showed intellectual astuteness. This CNN matter is simply a shift in entertainment tastes to a spicier flavor.

  8. […] CNN’s current business model is straight news, with the opinion shows pushed to their sister HLN.  But people actually watch Fox. […]