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An opinion piece in The Hill says:

That's what happens when all-things-Trump are myopically put at the forefront of every offering: You take J.R. Ewing off "Dallas," and there's no more "Dallas." You take Trump off the stage, there's no more cable news that has existed since June 2015, no more late-night "comedy" on CBS, NBC and ABC. It's the main (albeit not only) reason why CNN has lost nearly 70 percent of its audience since the beginning of the year, while MSNBC is down more than 40 percent.

Can this claim of causality be substantiated somehow? First, I'm guessing that the events in January had a lot of people "glued" to their TV, so perhaps a year-on-year comparison would be more appropriate. Second, does this fit some kind of general pattern of left-leaning TV/media being less watched during Democratic presidencies?


I'm not personally skeptical of the precise figures given below from Carolina Coast Online--thanks Joe W for editing these in--, but they were linked in the Hill piece to justify the 70%. I suppose it's the fact that Fox News lost substantially less audience that's part of the claim/evidence.

CNN’s drop in viewers is larger than its competitors, but all major cable news shows have experienced a drop. MSNBC had the second-largest drop in viewership since January, losing 49% of its total viewership between January and May. In the 25-54 age demographic, the network lost 63% of its viewers. During primetime hours, MSNBC lost 42% of its total viewers and 58% of viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.

Fox News had the least substantial drop out of all networks, losing 12% of its total viewers and 15% of viewers between the ages of 25-54 between January and May.

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    To be extremely blunt about this, it was an election year, news viewership is down across the board because it's not an election year. According to Pew Research CNN viewership was up 71% from 2019 to 2020.
    – DenisS
    Sep 6 at 3:53
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    @Fizz i wouldn't be surprised that cable news networks set record profits every election year only to fall backwards the next three years. I know I was glued to every source of data I could get in 2020 wrt the election, but I've since barely given a shit.
    – DenisS
    Sep 6 at 4:01
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    I think that's the context that needs to be addressed in any answer. If a news network dropped viewership by 70% after going up 3000% that's probably a win for the company. Any answer would have to provide that context.
    – DenisS
    Sep 6 at 4:08
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    I too find this unsurprising. By way of analogy, I watch the Weather Channel much more when severe weather might be threatening than during times when the weather is nice. Sep 6 at 11:54
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    Stop trying to research and answer the question in the comment section!
    – pipe
    Sep 6 at 20:23
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Based on (what is claimed to be) the CNN weekly Nielson ratings here CNN had a significant uptick in viewership in 2020, relative to 2019 levels, and in 2021, its viewership has returned to about 2019 levels. These data do indicate that CNN has encountered a very large (>50%) drop in viewership since January 2021. There is not evidence in this data that Trump being the president played a significant role in driving CNN's viewership -- the uptick occurred in early 2020 long after Trump had assumed office.

My eyeballing of the chart indicates at least a 50% drop. My read of the chart is that the multi-month average weekly viewership from June 2020 through Jan 2021 was about 1.2M viewers, though with several significant spikes. The long term average over the the summer of 2021 is around 0.6M -- so a 50% decline. Depending on the exact baseline used, and how one handles the transient spikes in viewership in 2021, one could obtain the quoted 70% drop, but this could be quibbled with.

Note that the current viewership levels are about the same as in 2019 and earlier (when Trump was in office); so it looks like 2020 was an anomalous uptick in viewership. Correlation is not causation and all that, but the uptick did overlap with the emergence of Covid-19 in the US, BLM protests and the ramp-up of the US Presidential election.

FWIW, Fox News exhibited a similar overall pattern: relatively steady levels over 2018 and 2019, an uptick in 2020, and a return to baseline in 2021. The details differ a bit, for example the magnitude of the 2021 uptick might be lower, and there is a current (Aug 2021) uptick not seen in the CNN data, but overall, the pattern is similar.

Additional sources

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  • Do you have any more info about the reliability of that source? Is the Nielsen data not available anywhere more official, even in such an aggregated form?
    – IMSoP
    Sep 7 at 15:40
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    SO, the uptick happened around the time we were all locked in our house with nothing to do but watch network TV? Wonder what could have caused that... :P
    – dsollen
    Sep 9 at 16:06

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