CNN’s ratings continue to sink as network boss Chris Licht mulls adding a primetime comedian to juice viewership in order to compete with rivals Fox News and MSNBC.
The third-place cable news network saw its primetime ratings hit another low on Monday, dipping to 311,000 nightly viewers on average, as it competed against NFL wildcard playoff game that pitted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Dallas Cowboys at 8:15 pm ET.
Despite the big game, which aired on ABC and ESPN, Fox News still brought in over 2 million viewers across prime time, averaging 2.1 million total viewers, due in part to “Tucker Carlson Tonight’s” 2.8 million viewers. MSNBC took second place in prime time with 1.2 million average viewers, thanks to “Rachel Maddow Show,” which reeled in nearly 1.7 million viewers at the 9 p.m slot.
In primetime, CNN’s “AC360” hosted by Anderson Cooper, which aired at 8 pm ET and 9 pm ET averaged 345,500 viewers, while the 10 pm “CNN Tonight,” brought in 166,000 pairs of eyeballs. In the key advertiser demographic of viewers aged between 25 and 54, CNN brought in just 51,000 in primetime. MSNBC doubled that haul with 104,000, and Fox reeled in 267,000 viewers.
CNN’s new chairman Licht is now focused on filling CNN’s all-important 9 p.m slot, which has been left without a dedicated host since Chris Cuomo was ousted in late 2021 over his role in advising his older brother, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a sex-harassment scandal.
Licht is reportedly exploring adding a news-savvy comedian to the primetime line up to lift ratings. Names like Bill Maher, Arsenio Hall, Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart have been floated as examples, but it is unclear if any of those comedians have been approached.
Fox News has had success with nightly comedy show “Gutfield!,” hosted by Greg Gutfield at 11 p.m., which often outpaces competitors like Stephen Colbert on CBS and Jimmy Fallon on NBC.
Part of CNN’s dilemma is budgetary under parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, which needs to cut at least $3.5 billion by the end of 2023. Employees at CNN have seen the impact of that mandate already.
In less than a year on the job, Licht has slashed hundreds of jobs and reshuffled the network’s lineup in an effort to move CNN away from commentary-driven and partisan opinion in favor of straight news.
CNN’s woes aren’t new. Its ratings have been in free-fall since former President Donald Trump left office, as rivals Fox News and MSNBC continue to widen their leads.
in 2022, CNN’s prime-time audience was down 33% to 730,000 viewers. Fox News was off 1% to 2.3 million viewers while MSNBC’s primetime lineup was off 21% to 1.2 million viewers. In the 25-to-54 demographic, Fox News led with 346,000 viewers, down 7%, followed by CNN’s 174,000, dipping 36% and MSNBC’s 133,000, declined 39%.
CNN declined to comment on its ratings or Licht’s primetime plans.