Cable News Ratings Keep Dropping

March 14th, 2011 at 8:45 am | 23 Comments |

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From Hollywood Reporter:

After years of audience growth, cable news may have hit a wall.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual State of the News Media report, cable news viewership for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News fell substantially in 2010 — 13.7 percent in aggregate for a sharper decline than any other sector. Broadcast news, which has experienced declining viewership for years, was down another 3.4 percent in 2010.

And the cable news networks’ declines were sharpest in primetime, where median viewership plummeted 16 percent to an average of 3.2 million, while daytime tune-in was down 12 percent.

And for the first time in the dozen years since PEJ has been monitoring the cable news networks, every channel was down. CNN — with its well-publicized primetime woes — was down the most in 2010, dropping 37% to 564,000 viewers. But Fox News, the No. 1 cable news network, declined 11 percent. And MSNBC — which finished 2010 ahead of CNN in primetime in news’ target demographic of 25-54-year-olds and total viewers — was down 5 percent.

“What [the audience erosion] suggests is that we may have reached a peak in cable news viewership,” says Amy S. Mitchell, Deputy Director for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “It’s not that people are not watching cable, they’re just not turning to news as much.”

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Houndentenor

    It’s because there’s so little actual news on cable news! Yes, sometimes for breaking news they do a decent job (at least with getting live pictures), but reporters are so lazy now that it’s disgusting to watch a story full of errors, full of interviews in which people lie and those lies aren’t corrected, etc. And how many Charlie Sheen stories does anyone really need to see before they look to see what else is on?

    24 news isn’t really 24 hours of news. It’s the same 30 minutes of news 48 times (minus a few idiot talking heads who have their own shows).

  • Rob_654

    Maybe people are just getting tired of the screech-fest on these 24 hour shows that pass themselves off as news.

    We see some story and then they get two people from opposite point of views going at it – and usually it seems like they want to cover point of views and not the facts. Then after a minute or two of yelling over each other they move on to some feel good story.

  • Non-Contributor

    There is no reporting any more it is all just reading prepared press releases. And the ones not reading press releases are self proclaimed experts but in reality don’t have a freakin clue what they are spewing.

    BTW: this isn’t just a cable news issue it is also very prevalent on the web. The self proclaimed fact checkers like Politifact have very few, if any, people on staff that have even a modest understanding of the topics they cover. And we all have read the ultra partisan drivel that is even present on this forum.

    • Watusie

      Read the F-35 article on this very site. It quotes and “Air Force General” who speaks approvingly of the plane without mentioning that he is retired and currently sits on the board of one of the companies paid to build the damn things.

  • dante

    I’ll echo the previous two commentators and state that I’ve dropped cable news for two reasons:

    1) I want NEWS. I don’t want 2 people voicing 2 different opinions (or in Fox News’ case, the same opinion) over and over again. Why bother trying to wade through an hour’s worth of bullsh!t just to get the 3 facts that I can get in about 10sec of searching online?

    2) I dropped cable almost a year ago and just get OTA channels and stream the occasional video online. We still stream cable news every once in a while when there is an important event going on (earthquake, protests in WI, etc) but it’s far less often then when we had cable and just left the TV running for hours on end even if we weren’t watching it. (And yes, that’s why we dropped cable)

  • ottovbvs

    Cable news is getting past it’s sell by date. I’m a bit of a political junkie, why else post here, but stopped watching cable a couple of years ago. It has it’s uses as in elections when the depth of reporting on results is pretty good but most of the regular shows are shoutfests where the same people pop up saying the same things over and over again. The investing and finance shows have always been a bit of a joke…well endowed attractive girls…screaming males…political partisans…incredibly shallow analysis…not worth five minutes of one’s time.

  • Traveler

    Yeah, I lose my patience when I hear Wolf Blitzer saying “freezing temperatures, whatever that is in Centigrade”. I mean come on. Sanjay Gupta takes 5 minutes to get across a four sentence point about why take iodine pills. Even though the CNN meteorologist is pretty sharp, no wonder it fell so much. Glad to see MSNBC holding its own better than the rest.

    But the current news is too compelling. There is a lot going on. I watch BBC on the web.

  • armstp

    One point that I think is interesting and worth making is that as much as these shows get a lot of publicity, they really do not have much of a following among the U.S. population. There are about 5 million people who watch these shows every day, so if we assume a total of about 10 million people watch these shows regularly that is still a very small portion of the U.S. population. There are 232 million adults in the U.S. This means that about 96% of adults in the U.S. never even watch these cable news shows, so it is hard to say much of the U.S. population these shows even represent or how much real influence they have. Most people in the U.S. could give a shit about Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.

    • ottovbvs

      I think 5 million is pitching it too high and ten million for a weeks regular viewing as distinct from catching a glimpse in airport or garage is way, way too high. I suspect we’re looking at regular audiences are around the 5 million a week. This then gets magnified in an echo chamber that’s mainly on the web.

      • armstp


        I was being conservative with the 10 million, so you are likely right, which means that like only 2-3% of American adults even regularly watch these shows.

        I also understand the echo chamber of the web, but I don’t think there are many Americans on the web surfing all these sites and are that much impacted.

        The point is that these opinionated cable shows really do not represent much in America and likely do not influence much.

        Beck might think he is some kind of royalty, but most in America either don’t know him or could care less.

        American Idol does 25 million viewers.
        Dancing with the Stars 20 million.
        NCIS 20 million.
        Two and a Half Men 14.5 million.

        Glenn Beck 1.8 million.

        • Watusie

          Lets really put it into context: Judge Judy, 4.8 million.

        • ChallengingFrum

          First off judge judy rocks. Second she is only on 22 minutes a day. She doesn’t do 3 additional hours on the radio and she isn’t competing with 100s of other news sources many of whom are conservative..otherwise good snark.

          Here is perspective for you, how many weeks would it ff to get the number of viewer beck has in a hour?

        • ottovbvs

          I agree their real influence is vastly exaggerated but liberals and Democrats are partially responsible for creating this impression. They’ve always assigned way too much importance to Fox News, it’s a factor in mobilizing support for Republicans but nowhere near as important Democrats often make it out to be. You could also say it produces a counter effect by energizing Democrats made angry by its ridiculously biassed coverage and the rantings of people like Beck.

        • ChallengingFrum

          Its amazing how angry liberals get at the existence of competing points of view. One would think that someone identifying themselves as liberal would have to have a fundamental openness to the experiences, perspective and ideas of another. But I guess that idea is predicated on the fact that liberalism isn’t a farce.

  • _will_

    of course, those 1.8 million are all primary voters so…

    • ScoopAway

      “of course, those 1.8 million are all primary voters so…”

      Yes, but they would have been anyway even if Fox news didn’t exist. And they would vote Republican regardless of any facts. Same as many democrats of course.

      As a legal analyst once said – Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?

      I still have cable and watch it, sort of. I expect as the next presidential election heats up, there will be a temporary uptick in watchers.

      • ChallengingFrum

        Or conversely, the reason ratings ticked down was because its not election season.

        Guys, we just had an election. the democrats jammed health care down everyone’s throat, after spending $1 Trillion trying to “stimulate” the government…i mean economy. The people got a chance to weigh in and now they are taking a break. Ratings will tick back up once the election comes around. Its ok. Sometimes the simpler answer is the right one.

  • 2way10

    I don’t have a lot of trust for most cable news stations these days so I don’t bother watching unless I’m at the health club on the stair climber, and then mostly for entertainment to get me through the exercise.

    The biggest reason for not watching, though, has been getting a Roku box. After getting the box we managed to shave $60 off our cable bill and eliminated all the cable news channels. If we want to watch anything it’s all on demand and a great deal of it is free. I’m not sure how any of that is monitored and factored in to the viewership analysis but technology like Roku, AppleTV, etc are growing and replacing cable/satellite.

  • JeninCT

    I got tired of hearing teasers for stories I already read about the day before on the net, and newscasters who keep telling me to check their internet sites for more information (?).

  • Natal

    Actually I do watch cable news with interest — ESPN sports desk.

  • andydp

    I gave up on CNN when Wolf Blitzer spent his ENTIRE 1600 show on Anna Nicole Smith’s death by OD.

    Breaking news coverage by these stations is good, mostly because of the live feeds. As for actual news, you almost have to read or go to several sites or newspapers to get an idea of what is happening.

    For my money the BBC has the better international coverage. They try to be balanced and provide in depth coverage of an issue. As an example, Sunday AM they had a nuclear scientist on for about 5 – 10 minutes talking about the Japanese reactor problems and how the Hydrogen explosion happened. Something that was confirmed by later events.

    Normally, I do not watch cable news (unless at the gym). I watch local news and come to sites like this for an in depth look at an issue. Thanks to the many contributors here I can get a very good idea of the facts behind an issue.

  • Martholomew

    That’s the trouble with predicting the end of the world. When it doesn’t happen, people stop listening to you.

  • Diomedes

    Its amazing how angry liberals get at the existence of competing points of view. One would think that someone identifying themselves as liberal would have to have a fundamental openness to the experiences, perspective and ideas of another

    As opposed to conservatives that are even keeled and entirely open to alternative points of view. You know, like evolution. Or equal marriage for all. Or tax increases.

    The main problem with certain points of view is that if they fly in the face of facts, they are meaningless. As someone once said, you can’t have two points of view if one of those views is a load of crap.