Challenge for New CNN Executives Is Greater as Ratings for Stelter and the Network Go Subterranean

At this point, the new brass at CNN may need to shift from revamping to a complete overhaul.

While it can become a little pedantic to focus on ratings too much, it’s appropriate to pay attention with keen interest to some recent numbers. At CNN, their brash and distancing media expert Brian Stelter has struggled mightily in recent months in the ratings, but in the past few weeks, he has managed to put up some arresting figures. This is not something reserved just for his “Reliable Sources” Sunday slot, though — the network itself is experiencing some dismal returns.

2022 has already proven to be a miserable year at what had once been the pinnacle of the cable news sector, CNN. With the merger between parent company Warner Media and the Discovery Networks, a new set of TV executives has been installed and they are pledging to bring changes and improvements to the flagging network. It is becoming apparent that they were looking at things with curb appeal potential, only to step into the threshold and see they had something closer to an episode of “Hoarders” on their hands.

The ouster of longtime CEO Jeff Zucker was huge news, followed by the even bigger item of the network’s new streaming service CNN+ going 10-toes-up in a matter of weeks. The willingness to sign the death warrant on that billion-dollar boondoggle showed the seriousness of the new ownership. Now the network is showing these executives the severity of the problems they need to contend with going forward.

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For years now, CNN has been an also-ran in the ratings, but the collective interest in the cable news industry managed to keep things buoyant. Zucker’s intent on making Donald Trump the focus of the network was enough to prop up profits, but then in his absence, it quickly became apparent there was little else to interest viewers.

As the news nets all saw a lull following the 2020 election, last year saw some recovery. Fox News returned to its former position, while MSNBC plateaued and saw a period of modest regrowth. Meanwhile, throughout 2021, CNN only continued to bleed viewership. Scandals involving Chris Cuomo, Jeffrey Toobin, and some producers embroiled in pedophilia exacerbated the problems. Today we see where things have gone from moribund…to alarming.

Last week, Stelter’s Sunday media program experienced the lowest ratings since 2019. He failed to attract more than 600,000 viewers, and in the advertiser demo, he drew a paltry 74,000. Jarring to be sure — until…

The numbers are in from this past Sunday, and it is not with glee or enthusiasm that we look at the results — it is sheer amazement. On Sunday, June 19, Brian managed to fall -28 percent in the total audience, and -44 percent in the demo. That is not a year-over-year plunge, that is down from last week’s already arrestingly bad figures. Brian barely managed to attract over 400,000 viewers. These are returns not seen from his program in seven years. Staggering.

The aggressive apathy from the audience is not isolated to Stelter, however. The network in total is seeing itself collapsing. On Friday, the average of the day’s demo was the lowest seen in two decades. The last time they hit those lowly figures was 22 years ago!

Through the weekend, this trend only continued. In the key demo category from Saturday and Sunday, the average was a paltry 67,000. Try wrapping your head around this detail: Going back nearly 30 years there were only two other times the weekend key-demo number was lower.

And just to compound the misery even further, on Monday, looking over JUST the cable news networks we can see how far out of the mix CNN has drifted. The network’s highest-rated program of the day — “360 with Anderson Cooper” — barely made it into the top 40. His 550,000 viewers stood as the leader at CNN. He was beaten by the likes of Joy Reid and the long-ignored Jose Diaz Balart, and even a repeat of Tucker Carlson that ran at 1 am.

Bear in mind, all of this is playing out against the near blanket coverage of the January 6 committee hearings. CNN has been nearly embedded with the J-6 commission. When Jeff Zucker was pushed out the front doors at CNN plaza in Atlanta, D.C. correspondent Jamie Gangel detailed how a number of members of the committee said they feared for our democracy, because they had regarded Zucker as such an integral ally for their cause.

So much is explained in these returns, primarily the stark disconnect between the American public and what CNN declares to be vital information. The changeover that the new executives have pledged for the network cannot come soon enough. It should have taken place years ago.

Riffed from the Headlines
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