CNN, once a titan in cable news, has found itself trailing behind not only its traditional competitors but also lesser-known networks. According to recent Nielsen ratings, CNN’s prime time viewership was surpassed by the History Channel and INSP, a network primarily known for Western TV shows and films.
The Nielsen data revealed that last week, CNN averaged only 538,000 nightly viewers in their prime time slot (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), placing it behind several other networks as reported by The New York Post. The decline occurred despite CNN’s coverage of significant political events like the Iowa caucuses. In contrast, Fox News led the pack with 2.091 million viewers, followed by ESPN and MSNBC.
INSP, originally a network founded by televangelists in the late 1970s, has transitioned to airing Western-themed content. It surprisingly outperformed CNN with 577,000 viewers, ranking eighth overall. The History Channel also drew larger audiences than CNN.
In comparison, Fox News Channel’s show “The Five” started the week with a strong average of 3.22 million viewers at 5 PM. In comparison, CNN’s ratings were significantly lower. In prime time, FNC’s viewership rose to 2.637 million, compared to CNN’s 559,000 and MSNBC’s 1.508 million.
CNN’s leadership has recently undergone significant changes, with Mark Thompson stepping in as the new CEO. Known for his previous roles at the New York Times and BBC, Thompson is now at the helm of CNN, which has been grappling with issues like declining ratings and reduced profits.
In an effort to rejuvenate the network, Thompson has been overseeing the consolidation of all news-gathering operations into a unified division, catering to CNN’s television, streaming, and digital platforms. This initiative is a key part of a wider strategy aimed at modernizing CNN and exploring new revenue streams, possibly through subscription models. However, Thompson is still considering whether subscriptions are the optimal approach for CNN.
The appointment of Alex MacCallum as the Executive Vice President of Digital Products and Services is another pivotal move. Formerly the head of revenue at the Washington Post, MacCallum is responsible for steering the development of digital products and subscription services at CNN.
Thompson’s overarching goal is to rejuvenate CNN by embracing digital innovation and aligning with the evolving media consumption habits, especially of younger demographics. “We need to recapture some of the swagger and innovation of the early CNN,” Thompson said in a memo earlier in January. “It’s time for a new revolution.”
“Change is essential if we’re to secure this great news company’s future. It brings uncertainty – that I’m afraid is inevitable – but in my experience, it’s also often rich in personal and shared opportunity.” He encouraged his team with a positive outlook, asserting, “Let’s build with confidence. Let’s fulfill our mission. Let’s learn some new tricks. Let’s look after each other. Let’s have some fun.”
Thompson also acknowledged the need for CNN to evolve in its digital strategy, admitting the network has been “slow to respond to the challenge,” posed by the decline in traditional TV viewership.
“The CNN of today is no longer that buccaneering outsider but a tenured incumbent.” He recognized the network’s existing strengths, including its impactful coverage of major news, its talented team, and its status as one of the world’s most visited news websites. However, he also noted a significant area of concern, stating, “But, despite all these strengths, there’s currently too little innovation and risk-taking.”