The Cable News Nightmare: CNN (and Piers Morgan) in audience crisis

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Viewers are turning off in droves, lured by brash rivals and popularity of internet news sources

Los Angeles

Stories aren't the only thing that high-profile studio anchors at CNN apparently know how to break. Judging by the latest TV ratings, they also seem to be uncannily successful at destroying the loyalty of viewers.

Figures from ratings agency Nielsen show that America's most famous rolling news brand has just experienced its worst month for almost 20 years, parting company with more than 50 per cent of its audience in 12 months.

The development follows years of unrelenting decline for the network, which pioneered 24-hour news in the 1980s, and was for years the top-rated news channel. It has in recent years suffered intense competition from Fox News and MSNBC, which both now outperform it in almost every time slot.

The figures also raise questions about the future of Piers Morgan, hired to shake up its prime-time schedule with an hour-long weeknight interview show. He drew an average of 417,000 viewers, a fall of 50 per cent and the network's worst figure for the slot since the early 1990s. Morgan's show is largely admired by critics. But his audience is volatile, and seems to vary according to the calibre of guests. In early 2011, when he took over from octogenarian Larry King, who boasted around 600,000 viewers, Morgan said his show should be judged "by how we settle down in between six months and a year". By that measure, he's in trouble.

May saw CNN's average audience fall to 388,000, of which a mere 113,000 are adults in the 25-54 age bracket that advertisers covet. The figures represent an exponential increase in the rate of decline for the channel, which is also undermined by the internet's rise in popularity as a breaking news source.

They also suggest that CNN is losing viewers quicker than rivals. For Fox, comparable figures (1.65m and 319,000) are down just under 10 per cent annually. MSNBC (658,000 and 213,000) is declining by around 20 per cent.

"It's really a bloodletting; there's no other way to describe it," says Robert Thompson, professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "The biggest problem is inherent in their brand. They are trying to stick to old-fashioned, unbiased news broadcasting when their rivals have worked out that to draw an audience when there aren't major stories breaking you need to do the opposite."

CNN, based in Atlanta, retains an expensive network of overseas bureaux and is still regarded as the nation's most reliable TV news brand. It has resisted the temptation to follow Fox and MSNBC in using partisan anchors.

As a result, CNN remains a go-to destination only when major breaking news stories unfold. May 2012 was particularly tough because it was a relatively quiet news month – whereas May 2011 saw the killing of Osama Bin Laden and major tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama.

CNN is hoping that two high-profile hires, the chef-turned-TV-star Anthony Bourdain and ABC News star John Berman will help to stem the bleeding.

Turn-offs: CNN's flop presenters

Piers Morgan

Hired in a blaze of publicity almost 18 months ago, the former Mirror and News of the World editor brings Fleet Street bombasity to his 9pm slot. But ratings for the show are highly volatile and on one night recently hit a low of just 39k in the all important 25-54 bracket.

Erin Burnett

"Smart, entertaining, and ahead of the news," is how CNN describes its 7pm anchor. The public must see things differently, given this respected (but perhaps monochrome) former financial journalist's prime-time show draws only 409,000 viewers – of which a woeful 46,000 belong to the 24-54 demographic that advertisers covet.

Anderson Cooper

Famed for his black T-shirts, perfect quiff and the live-on-air takedowns of public figures (on a slot he calls "Keeping 'em Honest!"), Mr Cooper is a cable news institution and the unofficial "face" of CNN. That hasn't stopped him managing to lose a quarter of his viewers in the past 12 months.

Wolf Blitzer

Bearded, bespectacled, and a fixture of CNN's line-up for more than 20 years, the ever-reliable Blitzer should be required viewing in an election year. But viewing figures for his 4-6pm Situation Room, billed as a "raw, unfiltered, and live" breaking news programme for the just-got-home-from-work crowd, are down more than half.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect