After Reshuffling Schedule, CNN Sees Ratings Lift

Numbers an improvement from disastrous 2010

After a bleak 2010, CNN has seen an improvement in its ratings. For the year (as of mid-December), prime-time viewership is up 18 percent (with an average total viewership of around 694,000).

Among the target 25-54 news demo, CNN saw a prime-time increase of 31 percent to around 225,000, and since moving to Spitzer’s 8 p.m. slot, Anderson Cooper’s program Anderson Cooper 360 has seen an uptick of 31 percent in total viewers (and 40 percent among the target audience).

The relative good news comes after a year in which Ken Jautz, president of U.S. operations at CNN, undertook a large-scale programming reorganization. He fired Eliot Spitzer, cancelling his 8 p.m. political talk show In the Arena; bumped John King up an hour to 6 p.m.; and brought in CNBC’s Erin Burnett to host Erin Burnett OutFront in King’s former 7 p.m. slot. The past year also saw Piers Morgan, the former British tabloid maven, take over Larry King’s 9 p.m. hosting role (Jautz put in a rerun of Cooper’s program at 10 p.m. to round out CNN’s prime time). 

“We changed every hour of our prime-time lineup except 10 o’clock. We’ve changed most of our daytime. And it’s resulted in very good ratings,” Jautz told Adweek.

According to figures from SNL Kagan, CNN, which bundles its ad revenue figures with sibling network Headline News, has also seen growth in its ad revenue, bringing in $547.2 million—a 10 percent increase for the year. Fox News Channel, by comparison, brought in roughly $683 million, which represents a 15 percent increase from last year. MSNBC's 2011 revenue figures aren't available.

The positive trend follows 2010, which was one of the worst years in CNN's history. Over the course of that year, the network fell 36 percent in prime time. CNN hasn’t been alone. Since 2009, Fox News Channel—which has a considerably larger audience than CNN and MSNBC—has seen a decline of around 14 percent in total viewers to 1.84 million (with a 21 percent decline in its target). MSNBC saw a decline of 6 percent to 769,000 total viewers (with a 14 percent decline in its target audience in the last two years). This year, Fox was down 5 percent in total audience while MSNBC was up 9 percent. In prime time, Fox News was down 8 percent, while MSNBC gained 2 percent in total. 

Just how much of CNN’s bump this past year is attributable to its programming moves and how much resulted from the big news stories that always tend to give the network a leg up (2011 was the year of the Japanese earthquake, Arab Spring, debt ceiling impasse, 9/11 anniversary, Bin Laden's death, and birth of the “Occupy” movements) is unclear.

For Jautz, CNN’s bump had as much to do with the personalities he reshuffled in prime time as the big stories that kept people glued to breaking news outlets. “Good journalism is good business,” said Jautz. “We’ve created a lineup that is more engaging based on quality journalism. We’ve brought in shows that give a viewer a reason to come check in regardless of whether there’s big news.”