February 2021 Ratings: CNN Remains the No. 1 Cable Network Among Adults 25-54, But Sees Losses From Prior Month

By A.J. Katz 

It was good news, bad news for CNN on the February 2021 ratings front. The good news is that the network continues to outperform ratings expectations in 2021, bolstered by unique news events, not limited to a second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump and continued interest in the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the election, CNN has been the go-to cable news network among adults 25-54. In fact, it has been the No. 1 cable news network among adults 25-54 in all relevant dayparts for four consecutive months. Adults 25-54 is a go-to demographic among advertisers.

Additionally, when it came to average total viewers, CNN also had its best February in network history, not just in total day (nearly 1.2 million) but also in prime time (nearly 1.7 million).

On the downside, CNN finished behind both Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers, both prime time and total day, one month after it had beaten both in that category and in those dayparts.

CNN also shed a larger share of its January audience than its competitors. CNN was the No. 1 network across all of cable television in January and delivered its highest-rated month in network history, driven by coverage of the presidential inauguration and the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Relative to its monster month of January, CNN fell -38% in total prime time viewers, -48% in the prime time demo, -37% in total day viewers, and -47% in the total day demo this past month.

Compared to its February 2020 performance, however, CNN thrived. The network grew +61% in total prime time viewers, +39% in the prime time demo, +74% in total day viewers and +62% in the total day demo. That’s far more year-over-year growth than the competition.

Here are the Nielsen viewership figures for February 2020 (Nielsen Live + Same Day data):

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 1,687,000 total viewers / 411,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun):  1,191,000 total viewers /  281,000 A25-54

Anderson Cooper 360 and Cuomo Prime Time remain CNN’s top shows. AC360 ranked No. 3 across cable news in the demo (behind Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson). Cuomo Prime Time took fourth place in the A25-54 demo, behind the aforementioned trio, and ahead of fellow 9 p.m. host Sean Hannity. Both of those shows finished both Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers.

CNN weekday late afternoon, prime time programs ranked No.1 in cable news among adults 25-54, outperforming FNC and MSNBC at 4pm (The Lead with Jake Tapper), 5 and 6 p.m. (The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer), 7 p.m. (Erin Burnett Outfront) and 10 p.m. (CNN Tonight with Don Lemon). Each one of those shows finished behind MSNBC in total viewers.

Here’s CNN’s ratings press release for February 2021:

CNN HAS BIGGEST FEBRUARY EVER

 

CNN #1 IN ALL OF CABLE FOR 4TH STRAIGHT MONTH IN TOTAL DAY DEMO 25-54

 

CNN HAS MOST-WATCHED FEBRUARY PRIME TIME AND TOTAL DAY EVER IN TOTAL VIEWERS

 

FOX Ranks #3 in Weekday Prime Time in Demo 25-54

 

CNN Ratings Still Up Double and Triple Digits vs. a Year Ago;

FOX Audience Continues to Flee, Posts Ratings Declines

 

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy Is a Ratings Hit

 

 

CNN’s ratings success continues into 2021, with the network having its best February on record.  For the month, CNN was the #1 network in ALL of cable as well as cable news, easily beating Fox and MSNBC in Total Day in the key demographic adults 25-54, now for four straight months. The network was also #1 in cable news in M-Su prime time, M-F weekday prime time and in dayside among adults 25-54.  Among total viewers, CNN had its highest February ratings ever in total day and prime time.

 

 

CNN weekday late afternoon through prime time programs ranked #1 in cable news outperforming FNC and MSNBC at 4pm (The Lead), 5 and 6pm (Sit Room), 7pm (Erin Burnett Outfront) and 10pm (CNN Tonight). At 8pm, AC 360 topped MSNBC’s All In and at 9pm, Cuomo Prime Time beat FNC’s Hannity among 25-54 in February.

 

 

CNN continued to post robust ratings growth vs. last year, up double to triple digits across the network’s 24/7 programming schedule in both total viewers and adults 25-54.  Conversely, FNC is having its worst year-over-year declines since 2006 in Total Day and has lost a third or more of its audience (both total viewers and the demo) since last year across all the key dayparts.  Fox is the only major cable news net registering declines vs. a year ago.

 

 

CNN’s newest Original Series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is a ratings hit among total viewers and ranked #1 in cable news in its time period. CNN announced earlier this month, that the series has been picked up for a second season in 2022.

 

CNN’s digital platforms are also having record numbers, making CNN the most watched and most used news and information brand in the world.

 

 

 

Daypart Highlights

 

CNN was #1 in Total Day, M-Su prime time and dayside in the key demo adults 25-54 for the fourth consecutive month.

(CNN was also #1 in M-F prime time in the demo this month, that data is below.)

 

Total Day:  This was CNN’s most-watched February on record in total viewers (1.201 million) and third highest February among adults 25-54 (283k), just following 1995 and 2017). Compared to a year ago, CNN posted the most growth in cable news, up +61% in the demo and +74% in total viewers.  By contrast, FNC lost -39%/-32% respectively of its Total Day audience.  This month is FNC’s lowest February in 20 years (since 2/2001) in the demo 25-54 and lowest in total viewers since Feb. 2015.  MSNBC ranks #3 in the demo and CNN has topped MSNBC in total day for 15 consecutive months.

 

M-Su Prime Time: This month marks CNN’s best February M-Su prime time ratings ever in total viewers.  Conversely, FNC is having its lowest February ratings in total viewers since 2016 and lowest in adults 25-54 since 2015.  CNN has topped MSNBC in M-Su prime for five straight months.  CNN’s audience has grown compared to last year – up +39% in the demo and an impressive +62% in total viewers, while FNC lost -38% of its audience in the demo and -30% in total viewers. (Weekday prime time is below.)

 

Dayside: This was CNN’s second highest February on record in both total viewers and adults 25-54 (after 1995). CNN has now topped MSNBC for 84 months in the demo and FNC for four months in dayside in total viewers and the demo. Compared to a year ago, CNN is up +97% among 25-54 and +92% in total viewers.  Fox had its lowest February in 20 years (since 2001) in the demo and lowest since 2015 in total viewers. FNC ranked #3 in dayside in both the demo and total viewers for the second straight month.  The last time FNC ranked #3 for two straight months was in 2000 in total viewers and 2001 in the demo.

 

 

Weekday (M-F) Evening/Prime Time

 

CNN ranked #1 in the demo in February in M-F prime time daypart (8-11pm) with 494k, MSNBC was second with 448k and Fox was last with 444k.  FNC ranked #3 in weekday prime time daypart, now for the second straight month.  The last time this happened was in 2000.  This was CNN’s third best February weekday prime time on record in total viewers (1.987 million, following 2008, 2016) and fourth best in the demo (494k).

 

CNN’s weekday evening/prime time programs all had their highest February ratings on record among total viewers and second highest in the demo, growing double digits vs. a year ago.  Fox programs lost a significant amount of their audience compared to last year.  Fox’s marquee prime time programs Hannity (9pm) and The Ingraham Angle (10pm) ranked #3 in cable news, following both CNN and MSNBC in the demo.

 

 

 

 

7:00pm/Erin Burnett Outfront – ranked #1 among adults 25-54 for the third straight month and #2 in total viewers in February. FNC ranked #3 in both the demo and total viewers. While EBOF had its highest February on record among total viewers and second best in the demo, Fox had its lowest February total viewer delivery since 2013 and lowest in the demo since 2001. For the third straight month Fox has now ranked #3 at 7pm in total viewers (last time this happened was in 1999) and among adults 25-54 (last time in 2000).  CNN has now topped MSNBC for the 19th month in the demo at 7pm.  CNN had the most growth in cable news at 7pm, Fox lost significant audience vs. last year.

 

8:00pm/Anderson Cooper 360 – ranked #2 in adults 25-54, ahead of MSNBC’s All In by +35%. CNN has now topped MSNBC for the 14th consecutive month in the demo.  This was AC360’s highest February on record in total viewers and second highest in the demo 25-54. Fox had its lowest February at 8pm since 2016 in the demo.  CNN at 8pm had the most growth in cable news, up double digits, while Fox was down by double digits.

 

9:00pm/Cuomo Prime Time – ranked #2 in cable news in February, beating Fox’s Hannity now for the third straight month in the demo 25-54.  The last time FNC ranked #3 for three consecutive months at 9pm was in 2000.  This was the Cuomo-led program and the overall network’s highest February at 9pm on record among total viewers and the second in the demo; FNC’s lowest since 2016.  CPT had the most growth in cable news in all of prime time, up triple digits among total viewers and up high double digits in the demo. Fox was down double digits. Cuomo Prime Time was also CNN’s highest rated program in both viewers and 25-54 this month.

 

10:00pm/CNN Tonight with Don Lemon ranked #1 in cable news in the key demo at 10pm for the third consecutive month. CNN Tonight has now outperformed FNC’s for three straight months and MSNBC for five. This is CNN Tonight’s highest February on record in total viewers and second highest among adults 25-54 (just after 2017), while Fox is having its lowest February total viewer delivery since 2016 and lowest demo delivery since 2015.  The Lemon-led program had the highest growth in cable news at 10pm in both total viewers and adults 25-54, while Fox is down significantly vs. last year, losing more than a third of its audience in both demos.

 

 

Additional January Program Highlights:

 

New Day with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman (6-9am) had its highest February on record among total viewers (716k).  This is Fox’s lowest February in total viewers since 2015 and lowest in the demo 25-54 since 2001.  FNC ranks #2 in cable news for the third consecutive month among total viewers. The last time this happened was in 2001.  New Day had the most growth in the time period, up +44% in total viewers and +35% vs a year ago.  FNC’s Fox and Friends lost -40% of its total viewer and -46% of its 25-54 audience vs. a year ago. Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) ranked #1 among adults 25-54 in February in the time period, also growing the most in cable news, up +28% in the demo and +43% in total viewers.

 

CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto (9-11am), CNN Newsroom with Kate Bolduan (11am), Inside Politics with John King (12noon), CNN Newsroom with Brianna Keilar (1-3pm) and CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin (3pm) all ranked #1 in cable news during their respective time periods in the demo adults 25-54 and/or among total viewers.  CNN was also up double digits compared to a year ago in both total viewers and the demo, while FNC lost more than a third of their audience each and every hour vs. a year ago.

 

The Lead with Jake Tapper (4pm) had its highest February on record in both the demo (361k) and total viewers (1.638 million). The program also ranked #1 in cable news, beating MSNBC’s Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace and FNC’s Your World with Neil Cavuto in the key demo 25-54 by wide margins (361k vs. 271k vs. 192k), for the fourth straight month.  The Tapper-led program also easily outperformed Fox in total viewers (1.638 million vs. 1.267 million) for the fourth straight month. The Lead grew the most in cable news, increasing +107% in the demo and +97% in total viewers vs. last year; FNC is down -45%/-43% respectively.

 

The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer had its highest February on record in both adults 25-54 and total viewers at 5pm (404k/1.727 million) and at 6pm (418k/1.651 million).  Sit Room was #1 in cable news at 5pm (404k) – surpassing FNC’s The Five (384k) and MSNBC (317k) for the third consecutive month.  At 6pm, Sit Room also ranked #1 in the demo adults 25-54 (418k), MSNBC’s The Beat was second with (306k) and FNC’s Special Report lagged far behind in third place with 294k. The Blitzer-led program grew by triple digits vs. last year at 5pm in the demo (+109%) and was up double digits among total viewers (+90%) and at 6pm, was up double digits in both demos (+89%/+86%).  FNC was down double digits during both hours vs. a year ago.

 

 

Weekend Highlights:

 

During the weekend dayparts (S/S; Total Day and Weekend prime), CNN was top-rated in the demo and #2 in total viewers.  CNN was also up vs. last year, FNC was way down on weekends too. On Saturdays, CNN was #1, surpassing Fox and MSNBC in total viewers and the demo from 12 noon–6pm and on Sundays from 12 noon-2pm, 5-6pm and 9-11pm.  CNN topped MSNBC for 24 out of 24 hours on Sat/Sun.

 

CNN’s weekend programs hit ratings highs and grew by double to triple digits compared to a year ago. Fox lost substantial audience viewership on weekends as well.

  • New Day Weekend with Christi Paul and Victor Blackwell ranked either #1 or #2 in cable news in total viewers and/or adults 25-54 during its respective time periods on Sundays in February.  CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, Ana Cabrera, and Pam Brown ranked #1 or #2 in total viewers and the demo adults 25-54 during their respective weekend time periods.  Smerconish (Saturdays 9am) ranked #2 in cable news surpassing MSNBC in total viewers (1.092 million vs. 978k) and in the demo 25-54 (184k vs 123k).
  • Inside Politics with Abby Phillip (Sundays 8am) ranked #2 in cable news in total viewers (803k) and the key demo 25-54 (167k).  The program grew the most, increasing +45% in total viewers and +22% in the demo vs. a year ago.  Fox was down -33%/-37% respectively.
  • State of the Union with Jake Tapper/Dana Bash (Sundays 9am) was #2 in cable news in both total viewers (1.044 million) and in the coveted demo adults 25-54 (217k).  The program was up the most vs. last year – increasing +54% in total viewers and +20% in the demo; Fox was down -29%/-33% SOTU was #1 at noon in both total viewers (1.265 million) and the demo (241k), increasing +62% among both demos.  Fox was down -19% in total viewers and -36% in the demo.
  • Fareed Zakaria GPS (Sundays 10am) ranked #2 in cable news in total viewers (1.174 million) and the demo adults 25-54 (225k). The Zakaria-led program was also up the most, increasing +50% in total viewers and +27% in the demo, while Fox was down -19%/-24%.  At 1pm, GPS was #1 in cable news in total viewers with 1.078 million and 197k in the demo 25-54.  The program was also up the most in cable news, increasing +48% in total viewers and +55% in the demo.  Fox was down-22%/-28%.
  • Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter (Sundays 11am) ranked #1 in the demo 25-54 (264k), Fox’s Media Buzz was second with 216k and MSNBC was third 131k. The Stelter-led program was #2 in total viewers. Compared to last year, Reliable was up an impressive +71% in total viewers and +62% in the demo 25-54.  Fox was off -22% in total viewers and -34% in the demo. 

 

 

CNN Original Series:

 

  • CNN’s newest Original Series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy ranked #1 in cable news in total viewers (1.905 million), adults 25-54 (429k) and among younger viewers (71k) across all three Sunday night 9pm premieres.  The series also currently ranks #3 in ALL of cable in total viewers and is the third best Original Series on record.  SFI is up double digits vs. the prior 4 Sunday time period average among all three demos.

 

  • Also new, CNN’s Lincoln: Divided We Stand ranked #1 in cable news on Sunday nights at 10pm across all three of its premieres.  The series averaged 1.612 million total viewers, 333k among adults 25-54 and 67k among younger viewers (18-34). This is the network’s fifth best Original Series in total viewers.  Lincoln outperformed MSNBC by triple digits and FNC by double digits in all the demos.

 

  • So far this year (thru 2/28), CNN’s Original Series Lincoln: Divided We Stand ranks #3 among Historical non-fiction series, and Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy ranks #3 among Food and Travel non-fiction series in All of Cable among 25-54. 

 

 

CNN Special Reports and Programming Highlights:

 

  • Kickoff in Tampa Bay: A CNN/Bleacher Report Special – (2/6 2:30-3pm) The Saturday afternoon special delivered 246k among adults 25-54 and 1.093 million in total viewers, ranking #1 in cable news in both demos for the time period
  • 2nd Trump Impeachment Senate Trial Coverage – (2/9-2/13 Tuesday-Saturday) Across the five days of the Senate impeachment trial of ex-President Trump, CNN averaged 695k in trial coverage (times vary by day) among 25-54 and 2.983 million among total viewers and ranked #1 in the demo 25-54 outperforming broadcast and cable news networks and #2 in total viewers.
  • CNN Presidential Town Hall: Joe Biden, moderated by Anderson Cooper – (2/16 9-10:13pm) Delivered 902k among 25-54 and 3.639 million total viewers, making it the highest CNN Joe Biden town hall among both demos and ranked #1 in adults 25-54 and total viewers for the time period.
  • AC360 Special Report: Bill Gates Interview – (2/20 9pm)  Delivered 160k in adults 25-54 and 911k among total viewers, ranking #2 in both demos during the time period.
  • We Remember 500,000: A National Memorial Service for Covid-19, hosted by Jake Tapper – (2/22 11pm)  Delivered 150k among 25-54 and 699k total viewers.
  • CNN Special Report: The Cult of QAnon, anchored by Anderson Cooper (2/26 11p-12:30p) delivered 207k among 25-54, ranking #1 across cable news in the time period. Among total viewers, the special attracted 873k.

 

 

Median Age, Cross Platform and Reach:

 

  • CNN continues to have the youngest audience in cable news in total day and prime. Across platforms, CNN reaches more total people in the U.S. than any other news brand across TV and digital. CNN reaches the largest average monthly cumulative TV audience (among both total viewers and adults 25-54) of any cable news network 2021-to-date, making this the 20th consecutive year on record for the network.

 

Digital-to-TV Lift: 

 

  • CNN Digital viewing added a 2.4% lift (or 29k) to CNN’s P2+ 1.201 million total day TV audience for a total of 1.230 million across platforms this month.

 

 

Out of Home Lift:

 

  • 2021-to-date  (through 2/21/21), CNN is averaging a +4% lift (or +70k) among total viewers and a +6% lift (or +26k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 1.680 million and 449k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively. 

 

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