Q2 ’21 Ratings: CNN Is One of Cable’s Most-Watched Networks, But Sees Ratings Fall to Pre-Pandemic Levels

By A.J. Katz 

When there are periods of breaking news and landmark special events, CNN benefits. That’s why the network had a monumental 2020 and first quarter of 2021.

In fact, CNN was the No. 1 network on all of basic cable for Q1 among adults 25-54, the first time the network had achieved that distinction in 12 years.

However, it was only a matter of time before the network’s ratings returned to Earth, and they did in the second quarter of 2021.

In Q2, CNN averaged 914,000 total viewers in prime time, a loss of -53% from Q1, and 654,000 total day viewers, -51% from its Q1 average. The network also averaged 224,000 adults 25-54 in prime time, and 160,000 adults 25-54 in total day, both figures substantially down from Q1.

Compared to the year-ago quarter, one which featured seismic global news events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and police brutality protests in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, (not to mention it being a presidential election year), CNN shed -49% of its average total prime time audience, -58% of its prime time demo, -45% in average total day viewers and -52% in the total day demo.

Compared to four years ago (Q2 2017),  CNN shed -13% of its average total prime time audience, -39% in the prime time demo, -17% in total day viewers and -39% in the total day demo.

Those trends might not look particularly good, but CNN still finished among the top 10 in average total prime time viewers (No. 6), and among the top three in average total day viewers (No. 3). It also beat rival MSNBC among adults 25-54 in all relevant dayparts this past quarter.

Here are CNN’s ratings for Q2 of 2021:

  • Prime time (Mon-Sun): 914,000 total viewers / 224,000 A25-54
  • Total day (Mon-Sun): 654,000 total viewers / 160,000 A25-54

On the programming front, The Lead with Jake Tapper ranked No. 1 in cable news in the weekday 4 p.m. time slot among adults 25-54. CNN Newsroom weekend anchors Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown were No. 1 among adults 25-54 in their respective time periods. Additionally, during the sentencing portion of the Derek Chauvin Trial (June 25, 2:30-5:15 p.m. ET)  CNN ranked No. 1 on cable news in the demo.

Below, CNN’s Q2 2021 ratings press release, where the network stresses its A25-54 demo wins over MSNBC:

CNN BEATS MSNBC IN PRIME TIME, TOTAL DAY, DAYSIDE AND WEEKENDS DURING 2Q IN DEMO

 

CNN Tops All Cable News Nets Year-to-Date among Adults 25-54

 

Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight 

Surpass MSNBC in the Key Demo 25-54 in 2Q; Cuomo Prime Time Posts CNN’s Highest Delivery in Total Viewers and Demo

 

 

CNN’s Newest Dayside Programs CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera and CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell Rank #1 in Cable News; The Lead with Jake Tapper is also Top-Rated among Adults 25-54 this Quarter

 

 

CNN beat MSNBC in all dayparts during the second quarter, including Total Day, prime time, dayside and on weekends in the coveted demographic adults 25-54 according to Nielsen data. CNN is the top-rated cable news network – outperforming MSNBC and FNC — since the New Year in Total Day among 25-54 and is a top 10 cable network in total viewers across dayparts this quarter. During Q2, CNN ranked #3 in total viewers and #2 in the demo in All of Cable (not just news) in dayside. CNN continues to have the youngest audience in cable news in Total Day and prime time in Q2 and continues to reach the largest cumulative TV audience among both total viewers and adults 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.

 

 

Year to Date

CNN remains the #1 cable news network 2021-to-date with a commanding 40% of the 25-54 three network share in Total Day, to FNC’s 34% to MSNBC’s 26% share.

 

 

 

2Q: Dayparts

 

  • In Total Day, CNN once again easily surpassed MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 (161k vs. MSNBC’s 116k) during 2Q.  CNN has now topped MSNBC for eight straight quarters in Total Day demo 25-54.

 

  • In Prime Time (M-Su 8-11pm), CNN beat MSNBC (229k vs. 203k) among 25-54, for the sixth consecutive quarter.

 

  •  During Dayside (9am-4pm), CNN outperformed MSNBC for 35 straight quarters averaging 197k vs. 115k.  This was CNN’s third highest 2Q in total viewers (801k) during dayside since 2003. CNN was #1 in cable news from 1-5pm weekdays, outperforming both Fox and MSNBC in the demo. During Q2, CNN ranked #3 in total viewers and #2 in the demo in All of Cable (not just news) in dayside.

 

  • On Weekends, CNN topped MSNBC among adults 25-54 in Total Day (121k vs. 61k) and prime time (147k vs. MSNBC’s 56k) and among total viewers (Total Day 559k vs. 442k/prime time 685k vs. 427k). All of CNN’s Sunday morning public affairs programs topped MSNBC in the demo adults 25-54 during the 2Q.   CNN beat MSNBC for all 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays in adults 25-54.

 

 

2Q: Weekday Programming

 

  • 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 (147k vs. 135k).  This is New Day’s third-best 2Q on record in the 6-9am time period in the demo (147k) following 2020 and 2019. Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett (5-6am) outperformed MSNBC by +34% in the demo (71k vs 53k) in the second quarter.
  • CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto (9-11am), At This Hour with Kate Bolduan (11am), Inside Politics with John King (noon) all easily topped MSNBC in the key demo 25-54 this quarter.
  • CNN’s newest dayside programs CNN Newsroom with Ana Cabrera (1pm) and CNN Newsroom with Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell (2-4pm) ranked #1 in cable news during 2Q in the key demo, FNC followed, and MSNBC was third in the respective time periods.
  • The Lead with Jake Tapper (4pm) ranked #1 in cable news in 2Q among adults 25-54, easily outperforming MSNBC and FNC.  The Tapper-led program averaged 235k, Fox’s Your World followed with 199k and MSNBC’s Deadline: White House was third with 157k. The Lead has now ranked #1 for five straight quarters. This is the Tapper-led program’s third highest 2Q on record in both total viewers (967k) and the demo (235k) following 2020 and 2017.  At 5pm, The Lead topped MSNBC in the key demo adults 25-54 (190k vs. 172k).
  • The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (6pm) outperformed MSNBC this quarter in the key demographic adults 25-54 (225k vs. 179k).  The Blitzer-led hour has now topped MSNBC for six consecutive quarters in the demo.  This is Sit Room’s third highest 2Q on record in total viewers (836k, behind 2020 and 2017).
  • Erin Burnett Outfront  (7pm) easily surpassed MSNBC’s ReidOut this quarter in the key demo 25-54 (245k vs. 193k).  EBOF has now outperformed MSNBC for 12 consecutive quarters.  This is the Burnett-led program’s third highest 2Q on record in total viewers (945k, behind 2020 and 2017).
  • Anderson Cooper 360 (8pm) topped All in With Chris Hayes this quarter (261k vs. 200k), now beating MSNBC for the sixth consecutive quarter in the demo 25-54.  This was AC 360’s third highest 2Q on record in total viewers (1.057 million, behind 2020 and 2017).
  • Cuomo Prime Time with Chris Cuomo had the network’s third highest 2Q during the 9-10pm time period since 2004 in total viewers (1.122 million, following 2020 and 2017).  The Cuomo-led program also delivered the network’s highest viewership in total viewers and in the demo (262k).
  • Don Lemon Tonight beat MSNBC’s this quarter at both 10pm and 11pm in the key demo 25-54.  At 10pm, the Lemon-led program easily topped MSNBC’s Last Word (243k vs. 219k), now for the sixth consecutive month. At 11pm, the program outranked MSNBC’s The 11th Hour with Brian Williams in the demo (199k vs. 192k).  DLT has surpassed Williams now for the second straight quarter among 25-54.

 

 

2Q: Weekend Programming

 

On Saturdays from noon-8pm, CNN was #1 in cable news – outperforming MSNBC and FNC, and again on Sundays from 3-7pm and from 9-11pm this quarter.

 

New Day Weekend with Christi Paul and Boris Sanchez surpassed MSNBC in cable news in the key demo adults 25-54 in its time period on Saturdays and Sundays.  Smerconish topped MSNBC on Saturday mornings at 9am in the key demo 25-54 (135k vs. 78k) ahead by +73% and among total viewers (750k vs. 717k) ahead by +5%. CNN Newsroom weekend anchors Jim Acosta and Pamela Brown were #1 among adults 25-54 during in their respective time periods – outperforming both Fox and MSNBC, and CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield was ranked either #1 or #2, outperforming MSNBC in each hour this quarter.

 

On Sunday mornings, all CNN programs easily outperformed MSNBC this quarter.  Inside Politics with Abby Phillip (8am) topped MSNBC in the demo (110k vs. 59k).  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 Original Series, CNN Films and Special Programming Highlights

 

2Q: CNN Original Series

 

  • The Story of Late Night (S1) (5/2-6/6/21) 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 ranked #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) (5/2-6/13/21) averaged 201k among 25-54, 728k in total viewers, and 39k among younger viewers (18-34) over its seven Sunday night 10pm premiere episodes.  In its time period (10p-11:15p/10p-11p) across cable news, the series ranked #2 in 25-54, total viewers and 18-34. The Bell-led series outperformed MSNBC by triple digits in the key demos.
  • The People v. the Klan (4/11-4/18/21) ranked #1 in cable news in its time period averaging 238k among adults 25-54, 1.180m total viewers and 66k in younger viewers (18-34). The People v. the Klan outperformed MSNBC by triple digits in all demos and topped FNC by double digits. All of CNN’s Original Series in 2Q ranked within the Top 10 among Society & Culture non-fiction series in All of Cable among adults 25-54 (People vs. the Klan #3, Late Night #8, USOA #9). Additionally, Story of Late Night also ranked #10 among the Top 10 all of cable Historical non-fiction series.

 

2Q: CNN Films

 

  • Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story (6/27/21, 9pm) delivered 108k among adults 25-54 and 584k total viewers in the time period, ranking #2 in cable news in both demos.
  • Dreamland:  The Burning of Black Wall Street (5/31/21, 9pm) premiered at #1 in cable news in total viewers (1.658 million), adults 25-54 (380k) and among younger viewers 18-34 (101k).
  • 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.

 

 

 2Q: Special Programming

 

  • During the sentencing portion of the Derek Chauvin Trial (6/25/21, 2:30-5:15p)  CNN ranked #1 in the demo across cable news delivering 322k in the time period, outperforming FNC (240k)  by +34% and MSNBC (218) by +48%.
  • CNN Special Report: Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump’s Insurrection (6/20/21, 9pm), reported by CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin delivered 164k ranking #1 in cable news in the demo and 1.086 million total viewers, ranking #2.
  • 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.
  • CNN Town Hall: The Climate Crisis (4/23/21, 10pm-11pm) with special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, moderated by Dana Bash, delivered 123k among adults 25-54 and 496k total viewers.
  • CNN Special Report: The Truth About Vaccines (4/10/21, 9-10pm) reported by Chief Medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, delivered 121k among adults 25-54 and 659k among total viewers, ranking #2 in cable news among both demos for the time period.

 

 

(Of note:  All CNN, FNC and MSNBC dayparts and programs are registering double-digits declines compared to 2Q 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.)

 

 

MONTH OF JUNE RATINGS HIGHLIGHTS

    

  • CNN topped MSNBC in Total Day among adults 25-54 in June, now for 19 straight months
  • The network also beat MSNBC in M-Su prime time in the demo for the 9th consecutive month among 25-54
  • CNN outperformed MSNBC in dayside in the demo 25-54 for the 88th straight month
  • On weekends, CNN easily outperformed MSNBC in weekend prime time and total day in both the demo and total viewers.

 

  • New Day with John Berman and Brianna Keilar beat MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the 8-9am hour in the demo now for the fourth consecutive month. Early Start with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett topped MSNBC in its time period
  • All CNN’s daytime programs ranked #2 in cable news in the demo.
  • The Lead with Jake Tapper, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360 and Don Lemon Tonight all surpassed MSNBC in the demo in June
  • Anderson Cooper 360 was the CNN’s most-watched program in the demo and Cuomo Prime Time was the most-watched in total viewers.
  • On weekends, New Day Weekend was #2 in the demo and CNN Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield, Jim Acosta and Pam Brown ranked #1 in the demo and #2 in total viewers this month. Smerconish was #2 in both the demo and total viewers on Saturday.
  • On Sundays, Inside Politics with Abby Phillip, State of the Union surpassed MSNBC in the demo in this month.  State of the Union with Jake Tapper/Dana Bash, Fareed Zakaria GPS and Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter all ranked #2 in cable news in both the demo 25-54 and total viewers, outperforming MSNBC.

 

All the cable news networks were down vs. last June due to the heightened news cycle of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown across the country last year. 

 

 

Median Age

In Q2 2021, CNN’s TV audience is four years younger than Fox and MSNBC in total day. In M-Su prime CNN’s audience is five years younger than both Fox and MSNBC. Fox and MSNBC continues to pace 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 6/13/21), CNN is averaging a +5% lift (or +34k) among total viewers and a +8% lift (or +12k) among adults 25-54 OOH viewers for a total of 668k and 165k, combined in-home and OOH total viewers and adults 25-54 respectively. 

 

Digital to TV Lift:

CNN Digital viewing added a 2% lift (or average quarterly 12k) to CNN’s P2+ 660 thousand total day TV audience for a total of 672 thousand across platforms in 2Q, 2021.

 

 

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