May 2021 Ratings: CNN Is Top 10 Cable Network, But Continues to Shed Viewers After Impressive Start to 2021

By A.J. Katz 

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CNN was the sixth-most-watched basic cable network in prime time, and the fourth-most-watched basic cable network in total day during the month of May.

Finishing in the top 10 shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. However, this represents a noticeable drop from recent months, when the network was consistently among basic cable’s top five.

CNN shed -11% in average total prime time viewers, and  -21% in the prime time demo from the prior month (April 2021). The network saw a steeper drop in total day viewing, down -22% in total viewers and -28% in the key A25-54 demo from April. This trend isn’t surprising. Wall-to-wall coverage of the Derek Chauvin murder trial carried CNN’s daytime ratings in April. Not having a comparable news event to broadcast in May hurt CNN’s ratings, moreso than Fox News or MSNBC, whose audiences will stick with those networks regardless of the news cycle.

Compared to the news-heavy month of May 2020 (CNN’s most-watched May ever), the network was down by -45% in average total prime time audience, and -53% of its prime time demo audience. In total day, the network fell by -44% in average total viewers and -50% in the total day demo.

It’s worth remembering that CNN presented wall-to-wall coverage of nationwide protests spurred by the police murder of George Floyd last May. That coverage attracted big ratings for CNN.

On the plus side for CNN (it’s not all doom and gloom here), the network continued to beat MSNBC when it came to adults 25-54, both during prime time (218,000 vs. 199,000), and total day (147,000 vs. 108,000). CNN has now topped MSNBC for 18 straight months in the total day demo.

The average Nielsen live + same day impressions for May 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 913,000 total viewers / 218,000 A25-54
  • Total Day (Mon-Sun): 610,000 total viewers / 147,000 A25-54

On the programming front — Cuomo Primetime was CNN’s most-watched show, both in total viewers (No. 22 overall), averaging just more than 1 million viewers per original broadcast, and among adults 25-54 (No. 9 overall), averaging 239,000 per original broadcast.

Anderson Cooper 360 is CNN’s other entry into basic cable’s top 10 among adults 25-54 (No. 10), averaging 238,000 viewers.

On Saturday and Sundays, CNN’s new programs CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta (3-6 p.m./4-6 p.m.) and CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown (6-9 p.m.) rank No. 1 in their respective time periods among adults 25-54.

Finally, The Lead with Jake Tapper (4-6 p.m.) out-performed Your World with Neil Cavuto (4-5 p.m.) and Deadline: White House (4-5 p.m. ET) in adults 25-54. Tapper and Cavuto tied head-to-head in the 4 p.m. hour.

Here’s CNN press release, where it highlights its wins over MSNBC in the key A25-54 demo, and delivering its third-best May ratings since 2008:

CNN BEATS MSNBC IN TOTAL DAY, PRIME TIME, DAYSIDE AND WEEKENDS

AMONG ADULTS 25-54 IN MAY

 

CNN Has Third Best May Prime Time Delivery in 13 Years among Total Viewers

  

The Lead with Jake Tapper is #1, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight 

Surpass MSNBC in the Key Demo 25-54; Cuomo Prime Time has CNN’s Highest Delivery

 

CNN’s Newest Weekend Anchors Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown Rank #1 in Cable News

  

CNN is #1 in All of Cable (not just news) in 2021 among Adults 25-54

 

 

CNN beat MSNBC in all dayparts in May including Total Day, prime time, dayside and on weekends in the coveted sales demographic adults 25-54 according to Nielsen data. Despite a news cycle that has cooled down significantly from a year ago, CNN had its third best May prime time delivery in 13 years (since 2008) in total viewers (just behind 2020 and 2017). CNN is #1 in All of Cable (not just news) since the New Year among 25-54 and is a top 10 cable network in total viewers across dayparts this month.  CNN continues to have the youngest audience in cable news in Total Day and prime time and reached the largest cumulative TV audience among both total viewers and adults 25-54 in May.  CNN’s digital platforms are also having record numbers, making CNN the most watched and most used news and information brand in the world.

 

(Of note:  All CNN, FNC and MSNBC dayparts and programs are registering double-digits declines compared to May last year.  As a news organization, CNN was up the most throughout last year’s busy news cycle and had heightened viewership during the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in 2020.)

 

 

Dayparts

 

  • In Total Day, CNN once again surpassed MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 (149k vs. MSNBC’s 110k) in May.  CNN has now topped MSNBC for 18 straight months in Total Day demo 25-54, the longest streak since Jan 2010.

 

  • In Prime Time (M-Su 8-11pm), CNN beat MSNBC (224k vs. 204k) among 25-54, now for the eighth consecutive month.  CNN had its third highest May prime time delivery among total viewers (942k) since May 2008 (behind 2020 and 2017).   

 

  • During Dayside (9am-4pm), CNN outperformed MSNBC for the 87th consecutive month averaging 172k vs. 102k.  May was CNN’s third highest in total viewers (715k) during dayside since 1995 (just following 2020 and 2017).

 

  • On Weekends, CNN topped MSNBC among adults 25-54 in Total Day (115k vs. 57k) and prime time (149k vs. MSNBC’s 52k) and among total viewers (Total Day 527k vs. 427k/prime time 703k vs. 419k). All of CNN’s Sunday morning public affairs programs topped MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54 in May.  CNN’s newest weekend anchors Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown were both #1 among adults 25-54 during in their respective time periods – outperforming both Fox and MSNBC.  CNN beat MSNBC for all 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays in adults 25-54.

 

Programs

 

  • During the 8-9am hour, New Day with John Berman and Brianna Keilar beat MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the key demo adults 25-54 (146k vs. 133k).  Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) outperformed MSNBC by +38% in the demo (69k vs 50k) in May.
  • The Lead with Jake Tapper (4pm) ranked #1 in cable news this month among adults 25-54, easily outperforming MSNBC and Fox.  The Tapper-led program averaged 193k, Fox’s Your World followed with 192k and MSNBC’s Deadline: White House was third with 145k. The Lead has now ranked #1 for seven straight months. In total viewers, the program averaged 825k.  This was The Lead’s third highest May on record in total viewers (just behind 2020 and 2017). At 5pm, The Lead easily topped MSNBC (202k vs. 153k) among 25-54.
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer easily surpassed MSNBC (200k vs. 168k) in the key demo adults 25-54 at 6pm in May.  The Blitzer-led hour has now topped MSNBC for the 15th consecutive month.
  • Erin Burnett Outfront  (7pm) topped MSNBC’s ReidOut (221k vs. 175k) in the key demo adults 25-54.  EBOF has now outperformed MSNBC for 22 consecutive months.  This is the Burnett-led program’s third highest May on record in total viewers (874 million, behind 2020 and 2017).
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8pm) also outperformed All in With Chris Hayes this month (241k vs. 186k), now beating MSNBC the 17th consecutive month in the demo 25-54.  May was AC 360’s third highest on record in total viewers (1.008 million, behind 2020 and 2017).
  • Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo (9pm) had its second highest May on record and delivered the network’s highest viewership among both total viewers (1.067 million) and in the demo 25-54 (243k).
  • Don Lemon Tonight (10pm) beat MSNBC’s Last Word this month (229k vs. 224k), now for the eighth straight month.  This was the Lemon-led program’s third highest May on record in total viewers (878k, just following 2020 and 2017).  At 11pm, the Lemon-led program averaged 189k in 25-54 and 628k among total viewers.

 

 

All of CNN’s dayside programs beat MSNBC in May in the key 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).

 

 

Weekends

 

On Saturday and Sundays, CNN’s new programs CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta (3p-6p/4p-6p) and CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown (6p-9p) both rank #1 in the demo 25-54, FNC was second and MSNBC was third. Both Acosta and Brown ranked #2 among total viewers, ahead of MSNBC by double digits in their respective time periods.

 

New Day Weekend with Christi Paul and Boris Sanchez surpassed MSNBC in cable news in both the key demo adults 25-54 and total viewers in its time period on Saturdays and Sundays.  Smerconish topped MSNBC on Saturday mornings at 9am in the key demo 25-54 (131k vs. 84k) and total viewers (739k vs. 733k).  CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield also ranked #2 in cable news among adults 25-54 during its respective time periods on Saturdays and #2 in Sundays in the demo/total viewers.

 

On Sunday mornings, all CNN programs easily outperformed MSNBC in May.  Inside Politics with Abby Phillip (8am) topped MSNBC in the demo (105k vs. 56k).  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.

 

 

CNN is #1 in All of Cable (not just news) since the New Year

 

 

 

CNN Original Series and Films Highlights

 

  • The Story of Late Night (S1) averaged 213k among adults 25-54, 1.171 million among total viewers, and 47k among 18-34 over its four Sunday night 9pm premiere episodes. The newest CNN Original Series ranks #1 in cable news in the demos and #2 in total viewers.  The series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits and FNC by double digits in the demos. SOLN was up the most across cable news vs. the prior four time period averages in total viewers, increasing +42%.

 

  • United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell (S6) averaged 201k among 25-54, 812k in total viewers, and 45k among younger viewers (18-34) over its four Sunday night 10pm premiere episodes.  In its time period (10p-11:15p/10p-11p) across cable news, the series ranks #2 in 25-54 and total viewers. The Bell-led series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits and FNC by double in the key demos.

 

  • CNN Films: Dreamland:  The Burning of Black Wall Street (5/31/21, 9pm) premiered at #1 in cable news in total viewers (1.314 million), adults 25-54 (292k) and among younger viewers 18-34 (66k).

 

  • CNN Films: Race for the Vaccine (5/15/21, 9pm) narrated and produced by Dr. Sanjay Gupta averaged 157k in the demo 25-54 and 578k among total viewers, ranking #2 in both demos for the time period.

 

 

 Special Programming Highlights

 

  • CNN Special Event: Graduation 2021 (5/23/21, 7pm) hosted by Don Lemon and Brianna Keiler delivered 86k among 25-54 and 415k among total viewers, ranking #2 in the demo for the time period.
  • CNN Special Report: A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP (5/16/21, 8pm) reported by Fareed Zakaria attracted 156k among 25-54 and 1.009m among total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news in both demos for the time period.
  • CNN Special: What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages (5/9/21, 8pm) reported by Don Lemon delivered 216k among 25-54 and 1.172m among total viewers, ranking #1 in the demo 25-54 during the time period.
  • President Biden’s First Address to Congress (4/28/21, 9:06-10:10pm) delivered 930k in adults 25-54 and 3.345 million among total viewers, ranking #1 in the demo in the time period.

 

 

 

Median Age

In May 2021, CNN’s TV audience is four years younger than Fox and MSNBC in Total Day. In M-Su prime, CNN’s audience is four years younger than Fox and five years younger than MSNBC. MSNBC is pacing at its 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-Mar 2021.

 

Out of Home TV Lift:

2Q-21-to-date  (through 5/9/21), CNN is averaging a +5% lift (or +36k) among total viewers and a +7% lift (or +13k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 744k and 192k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively. 

 

 

Digital to TV Lift:

CNN Digital viewing added a 2% lift (or monthly 11k) to CNN’s P2+ 615k total day TV audience for a total of 626 thousand across platforms in May.

 

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