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CNN Primetime Ratings Hit 3-Decade Low As Execs Search For Strategy

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Legacy cable news outlet CNN has suffered another ratings blow as CEO Mark Thompson struggles to bring the network back to relevance.

During the week of May 13–19 from 8 to 11 p.m., the cable channel, which promotes itself as “the most trusted name in news,” only attracted 83,000 viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. This marks its lowest-rated week since 1991, according to Nielsen.

By contrast, Fox News attracted more than twice the audience in the key demo, with 186,000 viewers, according to Nielsen. Left-wing MSNBC came in a distant second with 111,000 viewers, the data showed, according to the New York Post.

“Thompson better get his act together before he completely destroys CNN,” a top TV news producer told The Post. “It seems like he’s thrown in the towel regarding cable.”

The highest-paid anchor on the network, Anderson Cooper, hosts “AC360” at 8 p.m., “The Source with Kaitlan Collins” at 9 p.m., and “CNN NewsNight” with Abby Phillip at 10 p.m. during the week on CNN’s three-hour primetime block.

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CNN’s total weekly viewership was notably low, with only 494,000 viewers compared to Fox News’s 2 million viewers — Fox News shares common ownership with News Corp, the publisher of The Post. MSNBC garnered 1.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

“CNN’s new name is Cancelled Network Now,” a media insider joked to The Post. “Young people are as interested in Anderson Cooper as they are in Liza Minnelli.”

The Post added: “A spokesperson for CNN told The Post the network’s primetime ratings are ‘all growing year over year’ among viewers aged 25–54. The rep added that the network’s primetime lineup, starting from “Erin Burnett Outfront” at 7 p.m. to its rebroadcast of Anderson Cooper 360 at midnight, is ‘registering double-digit, year-over-year growth’ in total viewers.”

Thompson has been under pressure to improve sagging ratings and modernize the organization. Following Chris Licht’s disastrous 13-month tenure, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav hired the former executive of the New York Times and BBC last August.

He has left the struggling primetime lineup intact but revamped the equally problematic morning schedule.

“Zaslav went to a programmer in Licht. Now he went to a guy that doesn’t know how to program TV,” a producer told The Post.

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Last week, Thompson publicly unveiled a plan focused on CNN’s verticals.

Insiders have described it as a revision of the strategy that former CNN boss Jeff Zucker started seven years ago, which involved launching culture- and lifestyle-focused digital verticals and tiered subscription offerings centered around network personalities.

“We don’t believe news is just politics,” Thompson said in New York last week during the network’s pitch to potential advertisers. “Business and tech are news. Climate and weather are news. Health, wellness, and living longer are news. So expect to see us build new branded verticals in all these areas on TV, on our apps, and across our other platforms.”

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Said another media insider to The Post: “I know it’s cliché to say but Thompson is rearranging the deck chairs on The Titanic. He has no new ideas yet. But maybe his old media playbook will work.”

Last month, Thompson said the network faces an “existential crisis” as it deals with cord-cutting and the shrinking cable TV business. “There are plenty of things we have to fix at CNN,” Thompson noted then.

In early March, he unveiled a five-point strategy for rebuilding the network and brand that left experts unimpressed: “Building our digital future,” “A global integrated multimedia news operation,” “Future-proofing TV production,” “Developing new sources of revenue” and “Communication and culture.”

“It’s a five-point plan to make five-point plans,” a media exec told The Post then. “In other words, there is no plan, but we are really planning to make lots of plans. And rest assured, there are lots of people overseeing the planning to make plans. And Mark is overseeing all of the people planning to make plans. So don’t worry. We’ve got this totally under control!”

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