Q3 ’21 Ratings: CNN Is a Top 5 Cable Network in Total Viewers, But Loses Significant Number of Adults 25-54

By A.J. Katz 

When there are prolonged periods of intense breaking news and landmark special events, CNN benefits. That’s why the network had a monumental 2020 and first quarter of 2021. In fact, CNN was the No. 1 network on all of basic cable for during Q1 among adults 25-54, the first time the network had achieved that distinction in 12 years.

However, it was only a matter of time before CNN’s Nielsen ratings came back down to Earth, and they certainly have declined as 2021 has continued.

In Q3 ’21, CNN averaged 822,000 total viewers in prime time (No. 8 on basic cable), a -10% loss from Q2. The network also averaged 598,000 viewers in total day (No. 4 on basic cable), a -9% loss from Q2 . The network also averaged 188,000 adults 25-54 in primetime (where TV networks set premium advertising rates) and 130,000 adults 25-54 in total day. That’s down -16% and -19%, respectively, from what the network averaged in those measurements in the second quarter. In fact, those are the smallest average audiences in the demo since 2014. While the trend is poor, CNN still averaged more A25-54 viewers than rival MSNBC.

Additionally, compared to the year-ago quarter, one which featured seismic news events including coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a landmark presidential election campaign featuring televised debates, CNN shed -46% of its average total prime time audience, more than half of its audience from the primetime demo (-52%). The network was also down -38% in average total day viewers and -46% in the total day demo from what it averaged in Q3 of 2020.

Compared to four years ago (Q3 2017),  CNN shed -24% of its average total prime time audience, half of its audience from the primetime demo, -25% in total day viewers and -51% in the total day demo. Losing a larger percentage of A25-54 viewers than average total viewers makes sense if one examines TV viewing habits, and it will likely continue as an increasing number of Americans 55-and-under cut the cable cord.

While CNN’s ratings trends might not look good, the network still finished among the top 10 in average total prime time viewers. CNN also beat rival MSNBC among adults 25-54 in primetime, for the seventh consecutive quarter, and among adults 25-54 in total day for the ninth consecutive quarter.

Here are CNN’s ratings for Q3 of 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 822,000 total viewers / 188,000 A25-54
  • Total day (Mon-Sun): 598,000 total viewers / 130,000 A25-54

Programming highlights for CNN this past quarter include Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight beating their MSNBC timeslot competitors in the key demo. The Lead with Jake Tapper  (now weekdays, 4-6 p.m. ET) also beat its MSNBC competition in the key demo (but not total viewers).

History of the Sitcom (Season 1) ranked No. 1 in cable news its time period in total viewers, and adults 25-54.  The series averaged more than 320,000 adults 25-54 and roughly 1.5 million total viewers over its eight Sunday night 9pm and 10p premiere episodes.

Finally, Cuomo Primetime was CNN’s top-rated show in Q3.

Below is CNN’s Q3 2021 (and Sept. 2021) ratings press release, where the network touts beating MSNBC in the key A25-54 demo:

 CNN BEATS MSNBC IN PRIME TIME, TOTAL DAY, DAYSIDE AND WEEKENDS DURING 3Q IN DEMO

Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight Surpass MSNBC in 25-54;
Cuomo Prime Time Posts CNN’s Highest Delivery in Total Viewers and Adults 25-54 this Quarter

CNN also Tops MSNBC in September in Weekday Prime Time and All Other Dayparts Demo 25-54

CNN beat MSNBC in Total Day, prime time, dayside and on weekends in the key demographic adults 25-54 during the third quarter according to Nielsen data. CNN is also a top 10 cable network in total viewers across every daypart in 3Q. CNN’s Original Series History of the Sitcom and Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury finished their seasons ranking #1 and #2 respectively in cable news during the quarter across all demos. During the month of September, CNN topped MSNBC in weekday prime time as well as the other dayparts. CNN continues to have the youngest audience in cable news in Total Day and prime time and reaches the largest cumulative TV audience among both total viewers and 25-54, 2021-to-date. CNN’s digital platforms are also having record numbers, making CNN the most watched and most used news and information brand in the world.

(Of note: All CNN, FNC and MSNBC dayparts and programs are registering double-digit declines compared to 3Q a year ago due to the heightened news cycle from the coronavirus pandemic and political events and news pegged to the upcoming November 2020 presidential election.)

3Q: Dayparts

• In Total Day (6am-6am), CNN once again easily surpassed MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 (131k vs. MSNBC’s 95k) during 3Q. CNN has now topped MSNBC for nine straight quarters in Total Day demo 25-54.

• In Prime Time (M-Su 8-11pm), CNN beat MSNBC (190k vs. 156k) among 25-54, for the seventh consecutive quarter.

• During Dayside (9am-4pm), CNN outperformed MSNBC for 36 straight quarters averaging 156k vs. 94k in the demo. The network also ranked #2 in ALL of cable (not just news) during the day in total viewers this quarter.

• On Weekends, CNN topped MSNBC in Total Day and prime time in both demos during 3Q. In Total Day, CNN topped MSNBC in total viewers (562k vs. 404k), now for eight straight quarters and in the demo 114k vs. 53k (for 30 consecutive quarters). In prime time, CNN surpassed MSNBC in total viewers (773k vs. 399k), also for eight straight quarters and in the demo (167k vs. 55k) for 28 consecutive quarters. All of CNN’s Sunday morning public affairs programs topped MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54 during the 3Q. CNN beat MSNBC for all 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays in adults 25-54 this quarter.

3Q: Weekday Programming

• During the 8-9am hour, New Day with John Berman and Brianna Keilar surpassed MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the key demo adults 25-54 (110k vs. 107k) during 3Q. Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) outperformed MSNBC by +33% in the demo (56k vs 42k) in the third quarter.
• All CNN dayside programs (9am-4pm) beat MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54 including CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto (9-11am), At This Hour with Kate Bolduan (11am), Inside Politics with John King (noon), CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera (1pm) and CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell (2-4pm).
• The Lead with Jake Tapper at 4pm easily topped MSNBC this quarter in the coveted demo adults 25-54 (174k vs. 131k, +33%) now for the second consecutive quarter. At 5pm, the Tapper-led program had a +33% advantage over MSNBC (186k vs. 140k).
• The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (6pm) surpassed MSNBC this quarter in the key demographic adults 25-54 (173k vs. 147k), posting a +18% advantage. The Blitzer-led hour has now topped MSNBC for seven consecutive quarters in the demo.
• Erin Burnett Outfront (7pm) had a +23% advantage over MSNBC’s ReidOut in the key demo 25-54 (192k vs. 156k) this quarter. EBOF has now outperformed MSNBC for 13 consecutive quarters.
• Anderson Cooper 360 (8pm) beat All in With Chris Hayes this quarter (211k vs. 172k, +23%), now outperforming MSNBC for the seventh consecutive quarter in the demo 25-54.
• Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo delivered the network’s highest viewership in total viewers (959k) and the demo 25-54 (212k) for 3Q.
• Don Lemon Tonight outperformed MSNBC’s this quarter at both 10pm and 11pm in the key demo 25-54. At 10pm, the Lemon-led program surpassed MSNBC’s Last Word by 10% (193k vs. 176k) and has now outperformed Last Word for the seventh consecutive quarter. At 11pm, the program outranked MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams in the demo (157k vs. 149k, +5%). DLT has now surpassed Williams for the third straight quarter among 25-54.

3Q: Weekend Programming

New Day Weekend with Christi Paul and Boris Sanchez surpassed MSNBC in either total viewers and/or the key demo adults 25-54 during its time period on Saturdays and Sundays this quarter. Smerconish topped MSNBC on Saturday mornings at 9am in the key demo 25-54 (105k vs. 64k) and in total viewers (672k vs. 617k) in 3Q. On weekend afternoons/evenings, CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta and CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown ranked #2 in cable news, outperforming MSNBC in each of their respective hours on Saturdays/Sundays in total viewers and 25-54. CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield ranked #1 on Sundays in the demo at 3pm.

On Sunday mornings, all CNN programs easily outperformed MSNBC this quarter. Inside Politics with Abby Phillip (8am) topped MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54. State of the Union with Jake Tapper/Dana Bash (9am, noon), Fareed Zakaria GPS (10am, 1pm) and Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter (11am) all ranked #2 in cable news, topping MSNBC in both total viewers and the 25-54 demo during the quarter

CNN Original Series, Films and Special Programming Highlights

3Q: CNN Original Series
• History of the Sitcom (S1) ranked #1 in cable news its time period in total viewers, adults 25-54 and among 18-34. The series averaged 320k among adults 25-54, 1.411 million in total viewers and 60k among 18-34 over its eight Sunday night 9pm and 10p premiere episodes. The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits in the demo 25-54 (+425%), in total viewers (+227%) and in younger viewers 18-34 (+567%). It outperformed FNC total viewers by +5% and by double digits in the demo (+92%) and by triple digits 18-34 (+140%). History of the Sitcom was also up triple digits among adults 25-54 (+104%) vs. the prior four Sundays and double digits among 18-34 (+79%) and total viewers (+69%). The series was six years younger than FNC and fie years younger than MSNBC’s audience during the time period.
• Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury (S1) ranked #2 across all demos in cable news, posting 868k in total viewers, 162k adults 25-54 and 35k among younger viewers 18-34 on Sundays at 10pm. The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits among 25-54 (+189%), total viewers (+126%) and 18-34 (+338%). CNN’s audience was two years younger than FNC’s and MSNBC during the series.

(Note: Original Series data above represents most recent Live+3 and Live+7 data)

3Q: CNN Films/CNN Films Presents/CNN Films Shorts

 The Lost Sons (9/29/21, 9-11pm) delivered 152k among adults 25-54, 796k among total viewers and 18k among 18-34 ranking #2 across cable news in its time period.
 The Price of Freedom (9/19/21, 9-11pm) delivered 137k among adults 25-54, 534k among total viewers and 23k among 18-34 in the time period, ranking #2 in cable news across all demos. The film outperformed MSNBC by double digits in total viewers, triple digits in 25-54 and quadruple digits in younger viewers (18-34).
 9/11 (updated) (9/5/21, 8-10pm) delivered 222k in the key demo 25-54 and 45k in younger viewers (18-34), making the film the most-watched in cable news in those demos. The film also averaged 1.148 million total viewers.
 LFG (9/6/21, 9-11pm) delivered 123k among adult 25-54 ranking #2 in cable news and outperforming MSNBC by triple digits. The film averaged 478k among total viewers and 16k among P18-34.
 CNN Films Shorts which premiered on 7/31 and 8/7 from 9-10pm and included: 58 Hours: the Baby Jessica Story, Super Reviewers: Rate, Review, Repeat, The Bunker Room: Better Safe than Sorry and Lessons from the Water: Diving with a Purpose. In the 9-10pm hour when these film shorts premiered, CNN ranked #2 in the adult 25-54 demo.

3Q: Special Programming

September 2021
 CNN Special Report: Toxic: Britney Spears’ Battle for Freedom (9/26/21, 8-9pm) reported by Alisyn Camerota and Chloe Melas delivered 91k among adults 25-54 and 546k among total viewers outperforming MSNBC by double digits in both demos.
 Champions for Change (9/25/21, 8-9pm) hosted by Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota delivered 67k among adults 25-54 and 333k among total viewers, ranking #2 in the demo across cable news.
 CNN Special Report: Origins of Covid-19: Searching for the Source (9/19/21, 8-9pm) reported by Dr. Sanjay Gupta delivered 135k among adults 25-54 and 583 in total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news in the demo.
 CNN Special Live Programming: The California Recall (9/14/21, 10pm-2am) delivered 280k among adults 25-54 and 871k in total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news in the demo during the time period.
 CNN Special Report: America’s Longest War: What Went Wrong in Afghanistan (9/12/21, 9-11pm) reported by Jake Tapper delivered 104k among 25-54 and 521k among total viewers, ranking #2 in both demos for the time period.
 Shine A Light (9/11/21, 8-9pm) hosted by Jake Tapper delivered 168k among 25-54 and 711k among total viewers, ranking #2 in 25-54 for the time period.
 CNN Special Live Programming: 9/11: 20 Years Later (9/11/21, 8am-1pm) averaged 149k among 25-54 and 639k among total viewers.
 Fareed Zakaria GPS Special: Post-Covid-19 World (9/5/21, 10-11am) reported by Fareed Zakaria delivered 125k among 25-54 and 652k among total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news in both demos during the time period.
 CNN Special Report: Front Row to History: The 9/11 Classroom (9/5/21, 10-11pm) reported by Victor Blackwell delivered 223k among adults 25-54 and 639k in total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news for the time period.

August 2021
 We Love NYC: The Homecoming Concert (8/21/21, 4-5pm, 5-7:45pm, 7:45-10:32pm) The pre-show delivered 125k among 25-54 and 678k among total viewers, ranking #2 in both the demo and total viewers for the time period. The Homecoming Concert delivered 309k among in 25-54 and 1.661m total viewers, ranking #1 in both demos for the time period. The post-concert program hosted by Anderson Cooper delivered 268k among in the demo 25-54 and 1.242m among total viewers, ranking #2 in both demos for the time period.
 Being… AOC with Dana Bash – (8/9/21, 9pm) delivered 220k among 25-54 and 719k in total viewers.

• July 2021
• CNN Special: Where Have All the Theme Songs Gone? (7/25/21, 8pm), hosted by Don Lemon delivered 101k among 25-54 and 499k among total viewers, ranking #2 across cable news in its time period.
• CNN Special Report: Eating Planet Earth, the Future of your Food (7/23/21, 9pm), reported by CNN anchor and Chief Climate correspondent Bill Weir delivered 97k among adults 25-54 and 465k among total viewers.
• CNN Town Hall with President Joe Biden (7/21/21, 8-9:20pm), moderated by CNN anchor Don Lemon delivered 343k in the key demo and 1.563 million total viewers and ranked #2 in cable news in the demo and among total viewers, topping MSNBC in the time period ( 343k vs. 212k / 1.563m vs. 1.540m).
• CNN’s coverage of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Space Flight (7/20/21, 9-9:30am) delivered 257k among 25-54 and 1.245m among total viewers, ranking #2 in both demos for the time period. During the press conference that followed (11:45a-12:30p), CNN delivered 178k among 25-54 and 759k among total viewers, also ranking #2 in the demo for the time period. Anderson Cooper’s prime time interview with Bezos (8p-8:15p) CNN delivered 200k among 25-54 and 861k among total viewers.
• CNN’s Fourth in America Special (7/4/21, 7pm), anchored by Dana Bash, Victor Blackwell, Ana Cabrera and Don Lemon ranked #1 across cable news among both total viewers and 25-54 during the full coverage block from 7pm-3am. The special also ranked #1 during FNC’s coverage block (8-10pM) among both demos (1.538m/329k) vs. FNV (1.241m/167k).
• State of America: A Fareed Zakaria GPS Special (7/4/21, 10-11am) delivered 125k among 25-54 and 669k among total viewers, ranking #2 in both 25-54 and total viewers for the time period.

MONTH OF SEPTEMBER RATINGS HIGHLIGHTS

• CNN topped MSNBC in Total Day among adults 25-54 in June, now for 22 straight months.
• The network also beat MSNBC in M-Su prime time in the demo for the 12th consecutive month among 25-54.
• CNN outperformed MSNBC in weekday (M-F) prime time in the demo (205k vs. 198k), for the first time since April 2021.
• CNN surpassed MSNBC in dayside in the demo 25-54 for the 91st straight month
• On weekends, CNN easily outperformed MSNBC in weekend prime time and total day in both the demo and total viewers.
• New Day with John Berman and Brianna Keilar beat MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the 8-9am hour in the demo now for the fourth consecutive month. Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett topped MSNBC in its time period.
• All CNN’s daytime programs topped MSNBC, ranking #2 in cable news in the demo adults 25-54.
• The Lead with Jake Tapper, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight all surpassed MSNBC in the demo in September.
• Anderson Cooper 360 was CNN’s most-watched program for the month in the demo and among total viewers.
• On weekends, New Day Weekend was #2 in the demo and CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, Jim Acosta and Pam Brown ranked #2 in cable news in both total viewers and the demo 25-54 this month. Smerconish was #2 in both the demo and total viewers on Saturday.
• On Sundays, Inside Politics with Abby Phillip, State of the Union surpassed MSNBC in the demo in this month. State of the Union with Jake Tapper/Dana Bash, Fareed Zakaria GPS and Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter all ranked #2 in cable news in both the demo 25-54 and total viewers, outperforming MSNBC.

(Note: All the cable news networks were down vs. last September)

Median Age
In Q3 2021, CNN’s TV audience is three years younger than Fox and four years younger than MSNBC in total day and M-Su prime.

Cable News TV Reach
CNN continues to reach the largest cumulative TV audience of any cable news network so far this year, making this the 20th consecutive year on record for the network.

Multiplatform Reach:
2021-to-date CNN reaches more people in the US than any other news brand across TV and digital among adults 25-54 and adults 18-34.
Note that Comscore Xmedia data is delivered on a delayed schedule and therefore the above reflects Jan-May 2021.

Out of Home TV Lift:
3Q-21-to-date (through 8/15/21), CNN is averaging a +7% lift (or +42k) among total viewers and a +11% lift (or +13k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 611k and 132k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively.

Digital to TV Lift:
CNN Digital viewing added a 2% lift (or average quarterly 10k) to CNN’s P2+ 604 thousand total day TV audience for a total of 614 thousand across platforms in 3Q, 2021.

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