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Cable news networks have a serious ratings problem in the age of news burnout

Daily cable news viewership fell off a cliff in 2021.

Cable news networks have a serious ratings problem in the age of news burnout
[Source Images: Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty; hh5800/Getty]

While most people would say 2020 was one of the worst years on record, the same might not be said by cable news executives. All the pandemic turmoil and election strife of 2020 saw audiences glued to cable news channels, leading to a surge in viewership.

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For example, 2020 daily viewership for Fox News was up 40.3% from 2019 numbers, according to Nielsen data analyzed by Bloomberg Intelligence. Another standout example: CNN saw 2020 daily viewership up a staggering 79.8% for the year.

But 2021 saw a major reversal in the viewership fortunes of the major cable news networks. Check out how steeply daily viewership dropped across all major cable news channels in 2021 compared to 2020:

  • Fox Business: -47.5%
  • CNN: -40.5%
  • Fox News: -34.6%
  • MSNBC: -29.7%
  • CNBC: -19.0%

The only cable news network that saw itself add daily viewers in 2021 compared with 2020 was fledgling network Newsmax TV, which saw its daily viewership increase 32.4%. But even Newsmax took a major hit when comparing the last quarter of 2021 to the last quarter of 2020: Q4 viewership numbers tumbled 27.3%.

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So, what’s to blame for the declining viewership numbers? Burnout could have a lot to do with it. There’s only so much unrelenting negative news people can take. Especially when things don’t seem to be getting much better, it’s sometimes just easier to tune out.

Yet, there may be hope in the future for the cable news networks. With the midterm elections coming up in the latter half of 2022, it’s likely a highly polarized America will return to their ideological news networks of choice to keep abreast of what is sure to be one of the most contentious midterms in recent memory.

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About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at MichaelGrothaus.com

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