Drop In News Engagement Affects Cable News Networks

By Mark Mwachiro 

What do the war in Ukraine, the recent Supreme Court decisions, the mass shootings happening all across the country and the January 6 hearings all have in common?

They have created a sense of news fatigue for Americans, especially bad news fatigue, which has led to a significant drop in news engagement. According to a report from Axios, “engagement with news content has plunged during the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2021and in some cases has fallen below pre-pandemic levels.”

CNN and MSNBC are networks hemorrhaging viewers as they are down 47% and 33%, respectively, from the first half of 2021. Not helping these networks has been the loss of marquee talent consistently anchoring the 9 p.m. ET primetime slot.


MSNBC recently announced that Alex Wagner would be the new host for its 9 p.m. ET slot on Tuesdays-Fridays, taking over from Rachel Maddow, who will only host on Mondays. CNN still hasn’t decided who will fill its 9 p.m. slot. That will likely come in the fall.

On the other hand, Fox News has seen its viewership grow by 12% in the first six months of this year. In the second quarter of 2022, FNC was the most-watched network on all basic cable in primetime and total day, led by The Five.

According to live-plus-same-day data from Nielsen, Fox News averaged 1.45 million total viewers across the 24-hour day time period (total day) in Q2. That’s -10% from Q1 2022, but +22% from Q2 of ’21. Fox News also averaged 2.27 million total viewers in primetime, which is more than -11% from Q1 ’22, but +4% from Q2 of ’21.

When comparing cable news viewership in primetime to pre-pandemic levels of 2019, the three networks are also collectively down 15% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same time period in 2019.  MSNBC and CNN are down 16% and 35%, respectively, while Fox News is up slightly.

The trend of viewer disengagement towards the news may continue in the second half of 2022, as stories of inflation, a looming recession and a critical mid-term election may not appeal to many.