Aug. ’21 Ratings: Breaking News Coverage of Afghanistan Conflict Lifts CNN in Total Day; Mixed Results in Prime

By A.J. Katz 

In-depth coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan provided CNN with a nice boost this month in total day viewership and among adults 25-54, a demo that flocks to the network during periods of breaking news.

Despite growth in the demo in August, the network saw a decline in total primetime viewers, and came up short in that category to rival MSNBC. Despite the primetime decline, CNN still ranked as one of cable TV’s 10-most-watched networks (No. 7 in primetime / No. 3 in total day), and continues to beat rival MSNBC in the key A25-54 demo.

Relative to the previous month (July 2021), CNN shed -4% in average total primetime viewers, ye gained +1% in the primetime demo. There was growth in both total day viewers (+4%) and in the total day demo (+9%).


CNN saw predictable ratings losses from Aug. 2020, (CNN’s most-watched August in network history), no major political event to broadcast. The network shed half of its average primetime total audience (-51%), -58% of its audience from the primetime demo, -39% of its average total day audience, and -47% of its audience from the total day demo vs. the year-ago month.

The average Nielsen live + same day impressions for Aug. 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon.-Sun.): 819,000 total viewers / 191,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon.-Sun.): 621,000 total viewers / 136,000 A25-54

On the programming front — Each CNN hour from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. beat its MSNBC timeslot competition. Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight surpassed MSNBC in the key A25-54 demo. CNN’s 9 p.m. offering Cuomo Primetime was the network’s top-rated show for the month, but saw losses from July.

Additionally, the CNN original series History of the Sitcom was No. 1 in cable news its weekend time period in total viewers, and adults 25-54

For more information, below is the network’s ratings press release:



CNN is #1 in Cable News Year-to-Date in Key Demo 25-54 in Total Day


Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight Surpass MSNBC in Demo 25-54;

Cuomo Prime Time Posts CNN’s Highest Delivery in Total Viewers and Adults 25-54


CNN’S Original Series History of the Sitcom is #1 in Cable News and Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury Ahead of MSNBC by Triple Digits



CNN beat MSNBC in Total Day, M-Su prime time, dayside and on weekends in the key demographic adults 25-54 in August according to Nielsen data.  Year-to-date, CNN is the top-rated cable news network – outperforming MSNBC and FNC — in Total Day among 25-54 and is a top 10 cable network in total viewers across every daypart this month. CNN’s newest Original Series History of the Sitcom and Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury finished their seasons ranking #1 and #2 respectively in cable news in August across all demos.  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.



August 2021: Dayparts


  • In Total Day (6am-6am)CNN easily beat MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 (137k vs. MSNBC’s 97k) in August.  CNN has now outperformed MSNBC for the 21st consecutive month in Total Day demo 25-54.


  • In Prime Time (M-Su 8-11pm), CNN surpassed MSNBC (198k vs. 167k) among adults 25-54 for the 11th straight month.


  •  During Dayside (9am-4pm), CNN outperformed MSNBC for the 90th consecutive month, averaging 167k vs. 96k in the demo.  The network also ranked #2 in all of cable (not just news) during the day in total viewers and adults 25-54.


  • On Weekends, CNN also topped MSNBC in Total Day (6am-6am) in total viewers (614k vs. 411k) and in the demo 25-54 (124k vs. 53k). In weekend prime time, CNN beat MSNBC in total viewers (803k vs. 424k) and adults 25-54 (175k vs. 61k).  All of CNN’s Sunday morning public affairs programs topped MSNBC in the demo 25-54 during August.  CNN beat MSNBC for all 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays in adults 25-54 this month.


(Of note:  All CNN, FNC and MSNBC dayparts and programs are registering double-digit declines compared to August last year due to the heightened news cycle from the coronavirus pandemic.  In addition, the RNC and DNC National Political Conventions took place in August 2020 and had increased viewership.)



Year to Date

CNN remains the #1 cable news network 2021-to-date with 38% of the 25-54 three network share in Total Day, to FNC’s 37% to MSNBC’s 25% share.



August Weekday Program Ratings


  • During the 8-9am hour, New Day with John Berman and Brianna Keilar beat MSNBC’s Morning Joe among adults 25-54 (110k vs. 100k) this month.  Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) outperformed MSNBC in the demo (55k vs 41k) in August.
  • 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 easily topped MSNBC this month at 4pm  (189k vs. 143k, +32%) now for the 21st consecutive month.  At 5pm, the Tapper-led program had a +37% advantage over MSNBC (211k vs. 154k) and has now surpassed them for the 5th straight month in the coveted demo adults 25-54.
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (6pm) outperformed MSNBC in August in the key demographic adults 25-54 (182k vs. 155k), posting a +17% advantage. The Blitzer-led program has now outperformed MSNBC for the 18th consecutive month.
  • Erin Burnett Outfront  (7pm) surpassed MSNBC’s ReidOut this month in the key demo 25-54 (196k vs. 157k) averaging an +25% lead.  The Burnett-led program has now outperformed MSNBC for 25 consecutive months.
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8pm) easily topped All in With Chris Hayes (206k vs. 172k) in August, now beating MSNBC for the sixth 20th consecutive month in the demo 25-54; posting a +20% advantage.
  • Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo (9pm) averaged 222k in the key demo and 964k in total viewers this month, delivering the network’s highest rated program in both 25-54 and total viewers.
  • Don Lemon Tonight outperformed MSNBC at both 10pm and 11pm in August.  At 10pm, the Lemon-led program surpassed MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (199k vs. 175k, a +14% advantage).   At 11pm, Don Lemon Tonight also topped MSNBC’s The 11th Hour in the key demo (154 vs. 151k).



August Weekend Programming Ratings


New Day Weekend with Christi Paul and Boris Sanchez surpassed MSNBC in both total viewers and the key demo adults 25-54 in its time period on Saturdays and Sundays in August.  Smerconish topped MSNBC on Saturday mornings at 9am in the key demo 25-54 (98k vs. 52k) and in total viewers (651k vs. 580k). On weekend afternoons/evenings, CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta and CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown ranked either #1 or #2, outperforming MSNBC in each hour on Saturdays/Sundays in total viewers and 25-54.


On Sunday mornings, all CNN programs outperformed MSNBC this month.  Inside Politics with Abby Phillip (8am) topped MSNBC in the demo (89k vs. 46k).  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 in August.



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 317k among adults 25-54, 1.419 million in total viewers and 63k among 18-34 over its seven Sunday night 9pm and 10p premiere episodes.  The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits in the demo 25-54 (+403%), in total viewers (+227%) and in younger viewers 18-34 (+473%). It outperformed FNC by double digits in total viewers (+14%) and by triple digits in the demo  (+105%) and 18-34 (+163%).  History of the Sitcom was also up triple digits among adults 25-54 and 18-34 vs. the prior four Sundays and double digits among total viewers. It is six years younger than FNC and five 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 878k in total viewers, 159k adults 25-54 and 37k among younger viewers 18-34 on Sundays at 10pm.  The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits among 25-54 (+152%), total viewers (+120%) and 18-34 (+363%).  It outperformed FNC by +2% among adults 25-54 and +42% among younger viewers 18-34. CNN’s audience is 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)


CNN Films Shorts


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.



CNN Special Programming


We Love NYC: The Homecoming ConcertSaturday, 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 (during weather delay) 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 Monday, 8/9/21, 9pm delivered 220k among 25-54 and 719k in total viewers.



Median Age

In August 2021, CNN’s TV audience is three years younger than Fox and four years younger than MSNBC in total day. In M-Su prime CNN’s audience is four years younger than Fox and five years younger than MSNBC. Fox and MSNBC both pace at their oldest yearly median age on record.


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 +40k) among total viewers and a +12% lift (or +13k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 585k and 122k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively. 


Digital to TV Lift:

CNN Digital viewing added a 1.8% lift (or monthly 11k) to CNN’s P2+ 627k total day TV audience for a total of 638 thousand across platforms in August.