There’s a lot to be said about the year 2020. And perhaps even more that’s left better off unsaid. But one thing is undeniable: last year gave Americans ample reason to tune into cable news.
2021, by comparison, has been, shall we say, slightly less eventful. And now that the orange man has left the White House, networks are seeing more red.
The Trump Bump
Nielsen ratings at CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are down across the board, an expected dip that historically occurs in every post-election year. But viewership hasn’t just dipped to pre-2020 levels. Americans are tuning into primetime cable news less than at any time since 2016.
Without the seemingly 24/7 drama of Trump-era news cycles, cable news networks are starting to feel the burn and churn of audience apathy:
- Third-quarter primetime ratings have dipped over 50% year-over-year at CNN and MSNBC, for both overall audience and the key ages 25 to 54 demographic. Meanwhile at Fox News, primetime ratings for the demographic have dropped 37%.
- According to estimates from an S&P Market Intelligence analyst, MSNBC’s net operating revenue will fall from $1.1 billion in 2020 to just $940 million this year, while Fox will see a dip from $3.1 billion to $2.8 billion.
For context, in 2017, ratings dipped just 5% among the 25 to 54 demographic at Fox and CNN during the post-election year, while the opposition-slanted MSNBC saw a 29% spike.
Across The Digital Divide: It’s not just indifference the news networks are battling. News cycles or not, cable news will likely lose up to 20% of its audience in the next four years to cord-cutting and streaming platforms, ad agency executive Brian Wieser told the Financial Times.
Not Just TV: Surely less TV time isn’t an entirely bad thing, right? Maybe audiences are turning off the TV and reading a book, or picking up a newspaper, right? Think again. The New York Times has added just 443,000 digital subscribers in the first half of 2021—down from 1.2 million in the first half of 2020. Meaning, yes, maybe even the Grey Lady misses the orange man.