CNN ratings stink so bad it has fewer viewers than The History Channel

The remarkable thing about CNN is that the poorly-watched cable news network seems oblivious to its lack of viewers, almost as if its survival is not dependent on being competitive so much as it may be to spout the prescribed narrative of the day.

CNN bills itself as “the most trusted name in news,” and while that may be debatable the network is certainly not the most watched — not that drives change.

Citing the latest figures from Nielsen, the New York Post reported that CNN’s total viewership in prime time last week was topped by the History Channel, the Hallmark Channel, and INSP, an obscure South Carolina-based channel founded in the late 1970s by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. As noted by the Post, INSP plays Western TV shows and films and “is distributed to more than 80 million households across 2,800 cable systems as well as the DISH Network.”

CNN averaged 538,000 nightly viewers in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. block from Jan. 15 until Jan. 21, according to Nielsen. The 7-day period included coverage of last week’s Iowa caucus, which was won by Donald Trump.

The figures are well behind supposed rivals Fox and MSNBC, which means new CEO Mark Thompson has his hands full. Hired in August, the former New York Times and BBC head was the third CNN chief in two years.

As usual, Fox News dominated all others with an audience of 2.091 million in prime time, according to Nielsen. Left-leaning MSNBC, which is owned by Comcast, was third with 1 million prime-time viewers for the week.

Sandwiched between the news networks was the left-of-center sports network ESPN, which is owned by Disney. The network benefitted from a prime-time NFL playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, drawing 1.653 million viewers in prime time during the period.

Thompson took over from Chris Licht, who replaced Jeff Zucker. Licht was fired after 14 months, after trying to bring a more balanced approach to the network. Hard left anchors like Don Lemon were no longer in favor and that resulted in plenty of in-house from on-air talent.

The new CEO warned of the demise of linear television last week in a memo to staff, according to the Post, which cited a source to say that linear TV ratings “are only one aspect of CNN’s audience, with its presence on the Max streaming service, and their audience on, which reached a monthly average of more than 150 million users in 2023.”

“We need to recapture some of the swagger and innovation of the early CNN,” Thompson said in the memo. “It’s time for a revolution.”

Tom Tillison


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