Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist Howard Kurtz analyzed the downward trend of cable news ratings on his Sunday CNN show "Reliable Sources," with a particular focus on CNN's woes.
CNN has experienced an onslaught of problematic news in recent months, hitting record low ratings among total viewers and in the key 25-54 age demographic. In April, the network had its lowest rated month in more than a decade. In May, the network hit a 20-year low for total viewers in prime time programming hours. On Friday, the New York Post reported that Time Warner executives were considering replacing CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton.
Kurtz wondered if what he called the "dull political season" could be held responsible for cable news networks' declining ratings. "Fox News is down 250,000 viewers in primetime since January, but from a much higher base of almost 2 million viewers," Kurtz said. "MSNBC, in second place down 130,000 viewers in primetime. CNN has been hardest hit, down 450,000 viewers in those primetime hours."
Kurtz also mentioned that cable news networks are competing with the Internet, social media, and mobile applications. "In a broader sense," Kurtz asked. "Is that impacting [cable ratings]?"
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi described the overall trend facing television networks. "All television is declining," he said. "All ratings for most shows, start with 'American Idol,' are in decline. Cable networks are in the middle of a trend that has been going down...since 2007-2008, when there was a big spike with Obama and Clinton." He later added, "Cable news networks are in the same position as newspapers."
After establishing that all cable news networks faced ratings troubles of varying degrees, Kurtz brought up CNN's particular situation. "It's no secret that CNN's ratings have suffered the most even though all three are down," Kurtz said. "And I respect CNN for trying to be a straight news channel during a time when it's certainly easier, perhaps cheaper, to go the partisan, opinionated route that MSNBC has done following the lead of Fox News."
Kurtz added, "But what CNN executives say is that 'This right now is a seasonable blip...and that CNN admittedly is most tied to the news cycle,' in other words CNN does the best when there's a big breaking story either internationally or here at home."
"But cable networks have figured out that you can't rely on the news cycle," Farhi said. "And partisanship by MSNBC and FOX has been the strategy. CNN's strategy has been to play it down the middle more, and if it went more partisan, it would be dividing a market that is already occupied by a player as well. So it's not necessarily a good strategy to go partisan. They've got their market niche. The problem is, if the news doesn't cooperate, you're not going to get the viewers."
On the topic of partisan news, former PBS 'NewsHour' correspondent Terrance Smith brought up the coverage of the Wisconsin recall election. "Fox and MSNBC gave you a lot of opinion, I would say even advocacy of their respective opinions," he said.
"It was like watching two parallel universes," Kurtz said.
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 21: Anderson Cooper speaks during a rehearsal before a taping of Jeopardy! Power Players Week at DAR Constitution Hall on April 21, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27: CNN anchor Erin Burnett attends the launch party for CNN's 'Erin Burnett OutFront' at Robert atop the Museum of Arts and Design on September 27, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Wolf Blitzer of CNN attends the PEOPLE/TIME Party on the eve of the White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for People)
MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: CNN correspondent John King talks to the audience before moderating a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center between Republican presidential candidates U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. The debate is the last one scheduled before voters head to the polls in Michigan and Arizona's primaries on February 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 04: Televison Personality Piers Morgan on stage at BritWeek 2012's 'An Evening With Piers Morgan, In Conversation With Jackie Collins' benefiting Children's Hospital Los Angeles at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 4, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Howard Kurtz attends the 'Knife Fight' Special Screening during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on April 25, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Journalist Fareed Zakaria attends the TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for TIME)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Ashleigh Banfield the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights 2011 Ripple of Hope Awards dinner at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on December 5, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for RFK Center)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 27: Donna Brazile attends the PEOPLE/TIME Party on the eve of the White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for People)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: CNN correspondent Candy Crowley takes part in a Q&A with the audience following the HBO Documentary Screening Of 'Gloria: In Her Own Words' at Time Warner Center Screening Room on August 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 11: Dr. Sanjay Gupta attends the CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at The Shrine Auditorium on December 11, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: TV personality Anthony Bourdain speaks at the Great Googa Mooga 2012 at Prospect Park on May 20, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Television anchor, Chris Cuomo attends Love Heals, The Alison Gertz Foundation For AIDS Education 20th Anniversary gala at the Four Seasons Restaurant on November 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)