January 2021 Ratings: CNN Is the No. 1 Network on Cable Television

By A.J. Katz Comment

CNN is the No. 1 cable network for January 2021 in total day and in dayside — both among total viewers and the adults 25-54 demo. The network was also No. 1 in total prime time viewers (but finished No. 2 behind ESPN in the demo).

January 2021 was CNN’s most-watched month on record, eclipsing Nov. 2020 among total viewers in total and dayside (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and was the 2nd-highest-rated (behind only Nov. 2020).

The network beat its main competition, Fox News and MSNBC, in all of the key measurements in January, and its prime time slate beat Fox News’ vaunted prime time slate in average total viewers for the first time ever.

That’s significant.

So, how did all of this ratings success come about? A scorching hot news cycle certainly helped. The presidential election (and the buzz around it) lasted for longer than anyone expected, and viewers continue to crave updates on the Covid-19 pandemic. CNN has been delivering wall-to-wall anchored news coverage of both events on weekdays and weekends. There’s even a Covid-19 tracker graphic on the side of the screen that frequently updates in case you’ve forgotten how bad it’s gotten.

CNN’s coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol garnered the largest average audience for a day in network history (5.2 million viewers), and it was the most-watched network on presidential inauguration day.

The network continues to win the A25-54 demo, although it has started to see some audience drop-off since inauguration day. In fact, CNN fell back to No. 3 in total viewers last week (1.8 million in prime time / 1.3 million total day).

So, while CNN could certainly finish No. 1 for the month of February in the demo, don’t be surprised to see Fox News and MSNBC to go at it for No. 1 in total viewers in February.

The ratings for January 2021 (Nielsen live-plus-same-day data):

  • Prime time (Mon.-Sun.): 2,708,000 total viewers / 795,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon.-Sun.): 1,898,000 total viewers / 529,000 A25-54

How do the numbers above fare against the prior January figures? Well, there’s triple digit growth. CNN is up +128% in total prime time viewers, up +146% in the key demo in prime time. The total day growth was even larger, driven by significant dayside numbers — Up +153% in total day viewers and +176% in the total day demo vs. Jan. 2020.

All CNN programs had their most-watched month ever, and were up by high double to triple digits in both total viewers and adults 25-54 vs. the prior January.

Erin Burnett Outfront was No. 1 at 7 p.m. in total viewers for the first time ever and the 25-54 demo for the 2nd consecutive month.  Anderson Cooper 360 topped MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes in total viewers (fell short to Tucker Carlson Tonight in total viewers) but ranked No. 1 in the A25-54 demo ahead of both 8 p.m. shows. Cuomo Prime Time was the No. 1 program on all of cable news among adults 25-54. The program overtook FNC’s Hannity in total viewers for the first time, but finished behind MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the most-watched host on cable news. The 10 p.m. hour of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon outperformed The Ingraham Angle in total viewers and the key A25-54 demo, and out-performed the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell in the demo (but not in total viewers).

Here’s CNN’s press release regarding its January 2021 ratings performance:

CNN SMASHES RATINGS RECORDS; HAS MOST-WATCHED MONTH ON RECORD

 

CNN RANKS #1 IN CABLE NEWS IN JANUARY ACROSS THE BOARD;

ALSO #1 IN ALL OF CABLE IN TOTAL DAY, M-SU PRIME TIME & DAYSIDE IN TOTAL VIEWERS

 

CNN Day Parts and Prime Time Programs Hit All-Time Highs

 

FOX Has Significant Ratings Declines in January  

Hannity & Ingraham Trail CNN in Both Total Viewers and Adults 25-54

Loses Huge Cable News Audience Share 

 

Since the presidential election and continuing through the new year, there has been an indisputable realignment in the cable news ratings landscape.

 

In January, CNN was the #1 cable news network in Total Day, M-Su Prime Time and Dayside in total viewers and adults 25-54.

 

In ALL of cable, CNN was #1 in Total Day and daytime in total viewers and the demo 25-54, and in #1 in M-Su prime among total viewers. January was CNN’s-most watched month on record across Total Day and dayside. This month, CNN’s audience grew triple digits, while Fox was down double digits vs. a year ago. And to underscore the sea change that has occurred in cable news ratings, CNN now has the largest share of the cable news audience, with Fox’s share declining dramatically.

 

For the month of January, MSNBC ranked #2 in Total Day, M-Su prime time and dayside in total viewers and adults 25-54.  Fox, the once long-time ratings leader, fell to third across all the dayparts in both total viewers and demos.  In fact, Fox’s rankings dropped to the network’s lowest in 20 years:

 

  • The last time Fox ranked #3 in Total Day in total viewers was April 2000 and among 25-54 was October 2001
  • In M-Su prime, the last time Fox ranked #3 in total viewers was July 1999 and in 25-54 was August 2001
  • During dayside, the last time Fox ranked #3 in total viewers was January 2000 and among adults 25-54 was July 2001

 

 

Weekday (M-F) Evening/Prime Time

 

CNN’s M-F evening/prime time programs all had their highest ratings on record in January. Fox, on the other hand, ranked #3 in total viewers in the M-F prime daypart for the first time in over 20 years (since September 1999) and among adults 25-54 (since September 2000).  Fox’s marquee prime time programs Hannity and Ingraham trailed CNN in total viewers.  In the key demo adults 25-54, CNN surpassed Tucker, Hannity and Ingraham. All of Fox’s prime time programs are down vs. a year ago.

 

Erin Burnett Outfront was #1 in cable news at 7pm in total viewers for the first time ever and the demo adults 25-54 for the 2nd consecutive month.  Anderson Cooper 360 topped MSNBC’s All In in total viewers and ranked #1 in the demo 25-54 ahead of Tucker and All In at 8pm.  Cuomo Prime Time (9pm) was the most-watched program in all of cable news among adults 25-54.  The program overtook FNC’s Hannity in total viewers for the first time and is #1 in cable news in the demo adults 25-54 ahead MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hannity. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon outperformed FNC’s Ingraham for the first time in total viewers and was top-rated in the demo (25-54) surpassing both MSNBC’s Last Word and FNC’s Ingraham.

 

 

 

Share of Cable News:

 

Compared to the recent past, CNN has significantly grown its share of the cable news audience, while Fox’s audience share has declined precipitously.  In Total Day, Fox has gone from 43% of the cable news audience in 2019, to just 23% now; while CNN has increased from 29% to 49%. The trend holds for prime time and dayside:

 

 

 

Additional January News Program Highlights:

 

All of CNN programs had their highest ratings on record among total viewers and were up by high double to triple digits in both total viewers and adults 25-54 vs. last year.

 

New Day with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman (6-9am) ranked #2 in the key demo adults 25-54 (285k), beating third place Fox & Friends (208k) for the first time since the program launched in 2013. MSNBC’s Morning Joe had 289k,  Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) ranked #1 among adults 25-54 (157k) and #2 in total viewers (598k) in the time period.

 

The Lead with Jake Tapper (4pm)  ranked #1 in cable news, beating MSNBC’s Deadline: The White House with Nicolle Wallace and FNC’s Your World with Neil Cavuto in the key demo 25-54 by wide margins (701k vs. 499k vs. 237k) for the third straight month.  The Tapper-led program also easily outperformed Fox once again in total viewers (2.789 million vs. 1.425 million) in January, also for the 3rd straight month.

 

The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer was #1 in cable news at 5pm in the key demo for the second consecutive month, averaging 726k, MSNBC followed with 544k and Fox’s The Five lagged with 413k.  At 6pm, Sit Room ranked #1 in the demo adults 25-54 (715k) and #2 among total viewers (2.498 million), far exceeding Fox’s Special Report (384k/2.222m) and MSNBC’s The Beat in the 25-54 demo (432k).

 

 

Weekend Program Highlights:

 

During the weekend daypart (S/S) in both total day and primetime, CNN was #1 in total viewers and adults 25-54.  CNN’s weekend programs are hitting ratings highs and growing by triple digits compared to a year ago.

 

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 Saturdays and Sundays January.  CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, Ana Cabrera  and Pam Brown was #1 in total viewers and the demo adults 25-54 during their respective weekend time periods.  Smerconish (Saturdays 9am) ranked #1 in cable news surpassing both Fox and MSNBC in total viewers (1.508 million to 1.413m to 1.393m) and in the demo 25-54 (311k to 234k to 195k). The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer aired on weekends throughout January and ranked either #1 or #2 in cable news on Saturdays/Sundays among total viewers and adults 25-54.

 

CNN’s Sunday morning programs are all having their highest ratings ever, growing by double digits vs. last year.

 

  • Inside Politics with John King/Abby Phillip (Sundays 8am) ranked #1 in cable news in the key demo 25-54, averaging 251k, Fox followed with 211k and MSNBC had 133k.  In total viewers,  IP topped MSNBC (1.091 million vs. 916k).
  • State of the Union with Jake Tapper/Dana Bash (Sundays 9am) was #1 in cable news in both total viewers (1.463 million) and in the coveted demo adults 25-54 (327k), dominating Fox (1.403m/235k) and MSNBC (1.040m/169k).  SOTU was also #1 at noon in both total viewers (2.037m) and the demo (446k), Fox was third.
  • Fareed Zakaria GPS (Sundays 10am) was #1 in cable news in the demo adults 25-54 (325k) Fox followed with 267k and MSNBC had 193k.  In total viewers GPS easily surpassed MSNBC (1.555 million vs. 1.153 million).  At 1pm, the Zakaria led program was #1 in cable news in total viewers with 1.711 million and 391k in the demo 25-54, MSNBC was second and Fox was last.
  • Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter (Sundays 11am) ranked #1 in both total viewers (1.805 million) and the demo 25-54 demo (390k).  Fox’s Media Buzz was second with 1.333 million total viewers and 228k in the demo; MSNBC followed in third place (1.269 million/194k). This is Reliable’s highest month on record among total viewers and is the second month in a row Reliable was #1 among both demos. 

 

CNN Special Reports Highlights: 

 

  • The Divided States of America: What is Tearing Us Apart? hosted by Fareed Zakaria ( 1/31), drew 377k in adults 25-54 and 1.699 million total viewers. The program was ranked #1 across cable news among both adults 25-54 and total viewers.
  • Inside the QAnon Conspiracy anchored by Anderson Cooper (1/30), attracted 399k in adults 25-54 and 1.765 million total viewers, ranking #1 across cable news in the demo and #2 among total viewers.
  • The King of Talk: Remembering Larry King (1/24) averaged 1.192 million total viewers and 288k in the demo, ranking #1 in 25-54 and #2 in total viewers during the time period.
  • Living History with Anderson Cooper, Doris Kearns Goodwin & Ken Burns (1/23) attracted 1.017 million total viewers and 206k in the demo, ranking #1 in adults 25-54 and #2 in total viewers.
  • Kamala Harris: Making History  anchored by Abby Phillip (1/17), delivered the second highest CNN Special Report ever in both total viewers (3.087 million) and adults 25-54 (702k). The Phillip-anchored hour ranked #1 in cable news during its time period in both total viewers and adults 25-54.
  • The Faces of the Trump Insurrection (1/16) anchored by Anderson Cooper, delivered 2.317 million total viewers and 505k among adults 25-54, ranking #1 in cable news during the time period.
  • The Trump Insurrection: 24 Hours That Shook America (1/10) anchored by Wolf Blitzer, was the most watched CNN Special Report in CNN history. The special averaged 3.319 million total viewers and 883k in 25-54, beating both MSNBC and Fox in it time period by triple digits in both demos.

 

 

 Additional January Highlights:  

 

  • January was CNN’s most watched month ever, eclipsing November 2020 among total viewers in Total Day and dayside and was the 2nd highest in M-Su Prime (behind only November 2020).
  • CNN’s coverage of The Inauguration of Joe Biden (1/20) outperformed all other networks (broadcast and cable) and was the network’s highest Inauguration Day on record among both total viewers and adults 25-54.
  • CNN’s coverage of Trump’s 2nd Impeachment (1/13) was #1, ahead of every cable and broadcast network
  • CNN’s coverage of the insurrection at the Capitol (1/6) was CNN’s most watched day ever among total viewers, dwarfing every cable and broadcast network.  CNN reached 113.1 million total people globally across all of its platforms and touchpoints.
  • CNN’s GA Senate Runoff election coverage (1/5/21) was #1 in cable news in adults 25-54
  • New Year’s Eve Live w/Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen (12/31/21) delivered its largest audience in its 14-year history in both total viewers and adults 25-54 and ranked #1 across All of Cable (not just news) in both demos.

 

 

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 3.1% lift (or 59k) to CNN’s P2+ 1.907 million total day TV audience for a total of 1.966 million across platforms this month. This is the 2nd highest month on record for digital average audience, and the 3rd highest month on record for digital lift.  

 

 

Out of Home Lift:

 

  • 2021-to-date  (through 1/17/20), CNN is averaging a +4% lift (or +82k) among total viewers and a +6% lift (or +31k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 2.052 million and 569k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively. 

 

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