While January 2021 will go down in the ratings record books for CNN, the last week of the month may offer a portent of what the post-Trump era will be like for the network.
In the first week of the Biden administration, the AT&T-owned news channel saw the audiences that had been flooding into primetime recently drop precipitously on Jan. 25-29 compared with the highs of previous weeks. Meanwhile, rival Fox News Channel saw its own ratings only dip slightly after weeks of registering its own sharp declines.
Another network that has been characterized as left-leaning, MSNBC, has also seen significant declines but nowhere near as steep as what has hit CNN: Variety Intelligence Platform’s analysis of the viewership data across two key metrics—the target news demographic for people ages 25-54, and the total audience watching—shows that CNN ended the final week of January with ratings dropping roughly 44% for total audience versus the prior week across all three hours of primetime.
While it’s too early to conclude any longer-term direction for news ratings after just one week, the downturn could be interpreted as an indicator of what many industry observers had anticipated: With Biden in the White House, networks that have spent the last four years railing consistently against Trump have lost the main attraction that energized their audience bases, making it difficult to hold onto the elevated viewing levels.
That said, it could well be that this decline is temporary, as Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin on February 8, which could prompt audiences flock back. Regardless, the influx of viewers in the first three weeks of the month was more than enough to propel CNN to the top spot among all cable channels in total viewers, capping its strongest month yet after a stellar 2020.
Even in the last week of January, CNN still led among the other networks in the key 25-54 demo in the 10 p.m. hour, and ahead of Fox News also at 9 p.m.
Among viewers 25-54, the decline may have hit “Cuomo Prime Time” hardest at 9 p.m., where the audience fell by more than half. As a result, “The Rachel Maddow” Show on MSNBC captured the hourly lead in the hour despite seeing a decline of its own. The only program that didn’t see a downturn was Fox News’s 8 p.m. slot “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which showed a very slight increase versus the prior week.
Fox News has seen audiences fall to historic lows since the election as upstart rivals like Newsmax and OANN gain ground; the company has made several changes to its programming lineup in recent weeks.
A rep for CNN declined to comment.