2019 Ratings: CNN Finishes as a Top 10 Basic Cable Network for 3rd Straight Year

By A.J. Katz 

There’s some good news and bad news for CNN on the 2019 ratings front.

The good news for the network is that it continues to attract more adults 25-54 than rival MSNBC in total day, daytime and weekend hours. The network will also close out 2019 ranking No. 7 in all of basic cable in total day among average total viewers, marking the 3rd consecutive year that CNN is one of basic cable’s 10-most-watched network across the 6 a.m. – 6 a.m. ET daypart.

The bad news is that it can’t seem to catch up to its Fox News and MSNBC rivals during the all-important prime time daypart, and posted year-over-year audience losses in multiple categories across multiple dayparts.


Versus 2018, CNN was -2% in total prime time audience. That’s not terrible, considering 2018 was a midterm election year. But the losses are more significant in other dayparts. Despite snagging a top 10 ranking in total day, CNN was -8% in total day audience from last year.

The losses in the younger news categories are more noticeable. CNN was -21% in the prime time demo from 2018, and -24% in the demo from 2018. That’s a lot.

Yes, one can partially attribute the year-over-year losses among younger demos to 2018 having been an midterm year, a time when more casual news consumers (let’s face it, I’m talking younger ones) are more likely to pay attention to TV news than they are on off-election years.

While cable newsers should expect to see Nielsen linear ratings gains among total viewers in 2020, that’s still not necessarily true among younger demos. Americans under 55 are increasingly leaving traditional broadcast and cable television. While cable news does skew older than entertainment programming, it isn’t totally immune to the cord-cutting trend. It will be interesting to see what happens here.

Below are the final 2019 Nielsen live+same-day numbers:

  • Prime Time (Mon-Sun): 971,000 Total Viewers / 255,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  647,000 Total Viewers / 163,000 A25-54

On the programming front – a number of CNN’s signature programs took 3rd place in their respective timeslots. This was true for each of the network’s prime time shows: Anderson Cooper 360, Cuomo Prime Time, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.

However, there were some wins over MSNBC weekdays (but none over to Fox News really to speak of). The 5 p.m. hour of Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer beat MSNBC in the A25-54 demo. The same was true for the program’s 6 p.m. hour. At 7 p.m., Erin Burnett Outfront beat its MSNBC competition in the key A25-54 demo for 6th straight year.

CNN touted its weekend morning programming, and understandably so. Two standouts for the networks on weekends were CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, which finished No. 2 from 1 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. among adults 25-54, and CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera. In fact, Cabrera delivered more adults 25-54 in the 3 p.m. hour than MSNBC or Fox News. She finished No. 2 at 4 and 5 p.m.

Lastly, the debates – CNN hosted two Democratic candidates’ Presidential primary debates (over 3 nights) in 2019. One of the 2 debates went head-to-head with MSNBC: CNN’s/New York Times debate from Westerville, Ohio attracted 8.3 million viewers, while MSNBC’s/Washington Post debate from Atlanta averaged 6.5 million. These were the 2-lowest-rated debates of the cycle at the time.

It will be interesting to see which programs bounce back for CNN in 2020. We’re banking on CNN prime time, thanks, in part, to all of the 2020 presidential election-related events that will be taking place in and around the daypart.

Below is a CNN press release concerning its Nielsen ratings performance in 2019. This is the most up-to-date release, sent Dec. 17:




CNN Has Third-Best Weekday Prime Time in 11 Years

Network Ranks #7 in All of Cable in 2019; in Top 10 for Third Straight Year


CNN had a very successful 2019 and will end the year beating MSNBC in total day, dayside, weekends and on Sunday mornings in the key demographic adults 25-54. CNN is also on track to have its third-best weekday prime time (M-F 8-11pm) in 11 years (since 2008) among total viewers (1.150 million), just following the presidential election year of 2016 and inauguration year 2017. CNN Original Series and CNN Films are having banner ratings as well, ranking #1 or #2 in their time periods in either total viewers and/or adults 25-54 this year.  CNN had the youngest audience in cable news in total day and prime time and reached the largest cumulative TV audience for a record-setting 18 years. The network will close out 2019 ranking #7 in ALL of cable in total day among total viewers, marking the third consecutive year that CNN is a Top 10 cable news network. In weekday prime time, CNN will rank #9 in all of cable among total viewers, also in the Top 10 for the second consecutive year.


In total day (6am-6am), CNN beat MSNBC for the sixth straight year (165k vs. 155k) in the key demographic adults 25-54.  In dayside (9am-4pm), CNN outperformed MSNBC for the 23rd straight year in the demo 25-54 (168k vs. MSNBC’s 137k).  Every CNN hour also surpassed MSNBC this month, posting higher 25-54 demo audiences including: CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto (9am and 10am), At This Hour with Kate Bolduan (11am), Inside Politics with John King (weekday noon), CNN Right Now with Brianna Keilar (1pm) and CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin (2pm and 3pm).


On weekends, CNN outperformed MSNBC for 24 out of 24 hours on both Saturdays and Sundays in the demo. In weekend total day, CNN averaged 129k vs. MSNBC’s 87k and during weekend prime time, CNN posted 155k vs. MSNBC’s 91k among 25-54. CNN ranked #1 in cable news on Saturdays, topping MSNBC and Fox at 3pm and 7pm, and on Sundays at 3pm, 9pm and 10pm in the key demo 25-54.  All of CNN’s Sunday morning shows outperformed MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 in 2019.


(Note:  In M-F prime among total viewers, MSNBC is down -3%, CNN is up +2% and Fox is +3% vs. 2018.  All three cable news nets are down in prime in the demo 25-54 compared to a year ago with MSNBC declining -20%, Fox -14% and CNN -18%.  Everyone is down, flat and/or up only slightly in total day, dayside and weekends in total viewers and all three cable news nets are down among adults 25-54 vs. last year.)


2019 News Program Highlights


  • New Day with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman (6-9am) averaged 511k total viewers in 2019, the program’s third-highest year on record (behind 2017 and 2018) and the network’s overall third-highest 6-9am time period performance since 2003.
  • The Lead with Jake Tapper (4pm) averaged 871k in total viewers and 193k in the key demographic adults 25-54 in 2019.
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer ranked #2 in cable news this year at 5pm, easily surpassing MSNBC (208k vs. 182k). Sit Room has now beat MSNBC for the seventh consecutive year. At 6pm, the Blitzer-led program also topped MSNBC (221k vs. 212k), now for the sixth straight year.
  • Erin Burnett Outfront (7pm) easily beat MSNBC’s Hardball this year ranking #2 in cable news during its hour among adults 25-54 (246k vs. 227k). EBOF has now topped MSNBC for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8pm) attracted 1.063 million total viewers and 271k among adults 25-54 this year.
  • Cuomo Prime Time (9pm) delivered CNN’s highest viewership in 2019 among total viewers (1.130 million) and adults 25-54 (290k). Cuomo Prime Time delivered the network’s overall third-highest 9pm time period viewership since 2008 among total viewers (after 2017 and 2018).
  • CNN Tonight with Don Lemon (10pm) had its third-highest year on record in 2019, averaging 988k total viewers, just following 2017 and 2018.  It was also the network’s overall third-highest total viewer performance in the 10pm hour since 2008.
  • Early Start with Christine Romans and Dave Briggs (4-6am) surpassed MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54 (95k vs 80k) in 2019.


On Saturdays, New Day with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul (6-9am, CNN Newsroom 10am) and Smerconish (9am) outperformed MSNBC this year, ranking #2 in cable news in both total viewers and in the demo 25-54.  CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield ranked #2 in cable news on Saturdays (11am-3pm), and CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera ranked #1 at 3pm (#2 in the 4pm and 5pm hours) among adults 25-54.  SE Cupp Unfiltered (6pm) ranked #2, surpassing MSNBC in the demo 25-54 by double digits (+64%).  The Van Jones Show ranked #1 in the demo for 2019 YTD and The Axe Files with David Axelrod (both alternating in the 7pm time period) ranked #2.


All CNN Sunday morning programs including Inside Politics with John King (8am), State of the Union with Jake Tapper (9am and noon), Fareed Zakaria: GPS (10am and 1pm), and Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter (11am) ranked #2 in cable news this year, easily surpassing MSNBC in their respective time periods among adults 25-54.  Inside Politics and SOTU (9am and noon) topped MSNBC in total viewers as well.  New Day Sunday (7am) ranked #2 in cable news in the key demo. CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield at 3pm on Sundays ranked #1 among the key demo and ranked #2 in the 2pm and 4pm hours, as did CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera on Sunday afternoons/evenings.



CNN Debates and Town Halls


  • CNN hosted two Democratic candidates’ Presidential primary debates (over three nights) in 2019, with each debate well ahead of both MSNBC’s debates by double digits among total viewers and adults 25-54.  The second night of CNN’s debate in Detroit also outperformed NBC’s (on the broadcast network) second night from Miami (10.722 million vs. NBC’s 10.580 million).  CNN’s/New York Times debate from Westerville, Ohio attracted 8.3 million viewers, while MSNBC’s/Washington Post debate from Atlanta averaged 6.5 million.


  • In 2019, CNN televised 48 Presidential candidates’ Town Halls, the most in cable news by far.  CNN’s Town Halls provided voters an opportunity to ask candidates substantive questions and viewers the chance to hear the candidates’ positions directly from him/her.  CNN also held an unprecedented 10 back-to-back Town Halls on the important topic of Climate Change and nine candidates took part in CNN’s back-to-back Equality in America Town Halls.  In addition, the network hosted five back-to-back Town Halls from New Hampshire which focused on the issues of importance to young voters.



CNN Original Series Highlights


CNN Original Series ranked #1 and/or #2 in either total viewers/adults 25-54 demo rating in 2019, averaging record highs and attracting younger cable news audiences.  So far in 2019, CNN claimed four of the Top 10 non-fiction Historical series in ALL of cable among adults 25-54, more than any other non-fiction network including the History Channel.


  • American Style (1/13/19-1/20/19, Sundays 9pm and 10pm) ranked #1 in cable news among adults 25-54 (212k) during its time period average.  In addition, every episode of the four-part series that examined America’s changing style through the decades, premiered at #1 in the demo.  Compared to the prior four time period average, American Style posted the largest growth in cable news among total viewers and the second-largest growth in both the 25-54 and 18-34 demos.
  • The Bush Years (3/3/19-4/7/19, Sundays 9pm and 10pm) delivered 204k among 25-54 (+94% ahead of MSNBC) and 40k among 18-34, making it #1 across cable news. In total viewers, the series that examined the Bush family and their impact on American political history, ranked #2 with 783k.
  • Tricky Dick (3/17/19-4/14/19, Sundays 9pm) ranked #2 in cable news among adults 25-54 (206k) and total viewers (859k).  Among 25-54, the four-part series that explored Richard Nixon’s life and times, posted audience levels double digits above MSNBC (+86%) and Fox (+25) in its hour.  And versus the prior four period average, posted growth among adults 25-54 (+7%) and total viewers (+25%).
  • Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta (4/13/19-5/18/19, Saturdays 9pm and 10pm) ranked #2 in cable news in its time period across all demos, delivering 137k in adults 25-54, 610k among total viewers and 33k in younger viewers across the full season. Compared to MSNBC, the six-part series that took Gupta on a global trek to discover the secrets to living better, was up +80% among adults 25-54, +3% in total viewers and +154% among 18-34.  Compared to the prior four Saturday time period average, Chasing Life posted the largest growth in cable news among both 25-54 (+12%) and total viewers (+31%).
  • United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell (Season 4, 4/28/19-6/16/19, Sundays 10pm) ranked #2 in cable news among adults 25-54 (198k), total viewers (562k) and younger viewers (31k) in its fourth season. The Emmy Award-winning series that follows Bell as he explores communities and the unique challenges they face, outperformed MSNBC by triple digits in the 25-54 demo (+205%) and in younger viewers 18-34 (+210%).  Compared to the prior four Sunday time period average, United Shades posted the only growth among all cable news networks among all three demos: 25-54 (+40%), total viewers (+7%), and 18-34 (+3%).
  • The Redemption Project with Van Jones (4/28/19-6/16/19, Sundays 9pm) ranked #2 among 25-54 (108k) and 18-34 (26k) across its time period for the season. In the key demo 25-54, the eight-part series about the restorative justice process, posted audience levels double digits above MSNBC in its time period this season (+54%).
  • The Movies (7/7/19-8/18/19, Sundays 9-11pm) was the most-watched CNN Original Series in 2019. The series, which explored American cinema through the decades, ranked #1 in cable news in its time period averaging 364k among adults 25-54, 67k in younger viewers (18-34) and #2 in total viewers (1.095 million) across its six premiere episodes. The series was up significantly vs. the prior four Sunday time period averages, posting the largest growth in cable news in the demos 25-54 (+92%), total viewers (+55%), and 18-34 (+116%). CNN’s The Movies ranked #3 among the Top 10 Non-Fiction Historical series in all of cable among adults 25-54 year-to-date.
  • This is Life with Lisa Ling (Season 6, 9/29/19-11/17/19), an eight-part series that follows Ling as she immerses herself in communities that are often unknown or misunderstood, ranked #1 among 25-54 (218k) and younger viewers (52k) and ranked #2 among total viewers (738k). The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits among adults 25-54 (+125%) and among 18-34+ (+225%) and was up versus the prior four Sunday time period average, posting the largest growth in cable news among the key demo (+72%) and total viewers (+71%).
  • Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies (Season 3, 9/29/19-11/17/19), an eight-part series that gives unprecedented access to the secret world of espionage, ranked #1 among the key demo (139k) and younger viewers (29k) across cable news and was up vs. the prior four among 25-54 +7% and +16% among total viewers.



CNN Films & CNN Films Presents


  • CNN Films: Three Identical Strangers debuted as CNN’s most-watched CNN Film premiere to date among both adults 25-54 and total viewers (January 27, 9p-11p). The film attracted 2.523 million total viewers, +423% above MSNBC’s 482k and +68% ahead of Fox’s 1.506 million. Among adults 25-54, the film averaged 654k, and outperformed Fox’s 246k by +166% and MSNBC’s 100k by +554% in the time period.  Among all CNN Films premieres to-date, Three Identical Strangers posted the largest live+7 versus live net DVR growth among both total viewers (+902k) and adults 25-54 (+297k).
  • CNN Films: Love, Gilda premiered at #1 in cable news in both total viewers and among adults 25-54 (January 1, 9-10:40pm).  In total viewers, Love, Gilda averaged 1.690 million total viewers, +60% more than Fox’s 1.058 million and a +212% lead over MSNBC’s 541k.  In the key demographic adults 25-54, the film attracted 372k, +125% more than MSNBC’s 165k and +153% more than Fox’s 147k.
  • CNN Films: Apollo 11 (6/23/19, Sun 9-10:48pm) ranked #1 in cable news among adults 25-54 (317k) and in younger viewers (18-34, 59k).  The film averaged 1.4 million total viewers.  Apollo 11 outperformed Fox by +105% and MSNBC by +264% in the key demo 25-54.
  • CNN Films: Halston (8/25/19, Sun 9-11pm) ranked #2 in its time period in the key demo 25-54 with 151k, outperforming MSNBC by +99%. and Fox by +11%. In total viewers, the film averaged 677k, 33% more than MSNBC.
  • CNN Films Presents: Nixon By Nixon: In His Own Words (11/16/19, Sat 9-10:30pm) delivered 154k among adults 25-54 and 708k in total viewers, outperforming MSNBC by double digits among adults 25-54.



CNN Special Reports (CSR) and Other Programming


  • CNN’s 13th annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute, a program that celebrates individuals who are making extraordinary contributions to help improve the lives of others, ranked #2 across cable news in its time period on Sunday, December 8th (8-10:07pm) in the key demographic adults 25-54. CNN Heroes was hosted by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa.
  • CNN Special Reports (including Fareed Zakaria’s special reports), the network’s in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events, aired nearly 20 special reports on a vast array of topics ranging from big tech, white supremacy, undocumented workers, the college admissions scandal and Jake Tapper’s All the President’s Lies documentary. CSR averaged 166k across all reports in the demo adults 25-54, ranking #2 in cable news for the year in their respective time periods.
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Weed 5: The CBD Craze premiered on Sunday, 9/29 (8-9pm) and delivered 199k among 25-54, ranking #1 among cable news in its time period. Weed 5 was ahead by triple digits (+134%) vs. Fox News and ahead of MSNBC by double digits (+78%).



Median Age

  • In 2019, CNN’s TV audience is three years younger than both Fox and MSNBC in total day and four years younger in M-Su prime. In weekday (M-F) prime, CNN’s audience is three years younger than Fox and four years younger than MSNBC. MSNBC is pacing at its oldest yearly median age on record across all dayparts.


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 18th consecutive year on record for the network. In total viewers CNN averaged 59.4 million, MSNBC had 47.8 million and Fox 58.0 million.  Among adults 24-54, CNN posted 20.3 million to MSNBC’s 15.2 million to Fox’s 17.9 million.


Multiplatform Reach

  • For the second consecutive year, CNN reaches more people 2019 year-to-date than any other cable news brand across TV and digital and is registering its highest average monthly total viewer reach on record. Additionally, CNN reaches more people ages 25-54 than any other news brand across TV and digital, also for the second straight year.


Out of Home Lift

  • YTD, CNN is averaging a +9.2% lift (or +15k) in total day among 25-54 with OOH viewers, its highest yearly percentage lift on record and above last year (2018: +6.5%).


Digital to TV Lift

  • CNN Digital viewing added 16k average audience, a +2.5% lift, to CNN’s total viewer average TV audience in 2019, up from 2018 (15k; 2.1% lift).


(Data is from 12/31/18 through 12/15/19. Nielsen will release final year end data after the New Year.)