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CNN 2011: A Year of Big News Events Drives Rebound

2011 was a year of big news events. From the uprisings in the Middle East to the tsunami and nuclear fiasco in Japan, from the death of Osama bin Laden to Hurricane Irene, this year was an eventful one. CNN, which has traditionally benefited when news breaks, reaped the rewards of all that news, improving its primetime and total day ratings dramatically from 2010, which marked a low for the channel.

  • Primetime: 693,000 total viewers/ 224,000 A25-54
  • Total Day: 480,000 total viewers/ 161,000 A25-54
  • CNN was up double digits in both total viewers and the key news demo of adults 25-54 in both total day and primetime. In total day CNN placed second in total and demo viewers, ahead of MSNBC. In primetime it remained in third place, and 2011 still marked the channel’s second-worst ratings performance since at least 1997.

    The channel’s top program in 2011 was the 10 PM airing of “AC360,” which improved upon its 2010 ratings by +16% in total viewers and +34% in the demo. 10 PM’s “AC360″ also topped MSNBC in that time period for the year. At 9 PM, “Piers Morgan Tonight” was up +8% in total viewers and +24% in the demo compared to 2010, when “Larry King Live,” held the 9 PM slot. Even 8 PM, which saw a number of programs this year, from “Parker Spitzer to ‘AC360,” improved double digits compared to 2010. When an apples to apples comparison is made (08/08/11-12/25/11 compared to 08/09/10-12/26/10), the 8 PM “AC360″ is up even more.

    7 PM, which was home to “John King USA” and “Erin Burnett Outfront,” was up +12% in total viewers and +21% in the demo compared to 2010.

    The weakest member of the lineup remained “American Morning,” which will be replaced early next year by a pair of new programs. “American Morning,” was down -5% in total viewers and up +4% in the demo compared to 2010.

    CNN’s press release from earlier this month is below


    Anderson Cooper 360 Tops MSNBC at 10p and Grows +37%

    At 8p AC 360 is Up +40%; while FNC and MSNBC are Down

    Piers Morgan Tonight is Up +26% vs. Larry King a Year Ago

    CNN Tops MSNBC in Total Day and Daytime


    Nielsen YTD-December 11, 2011 vs. same time period a year ago (12/27/10-12/11/11 vs. 12/28/09-12/12/10)

    Primetime: CNN is up +30% (FNC down -16%, MSNBC up 2%)

    Total Day: CNN is up +22%, topping MSNBC (a year ago MSNBC topped CNN)

    Dayside: CNN outperforms MSNBC by +71%

    Since AC 360 moved to 8pm, the program is up +40%

    AC 360 at 10 pm tops MSNBC and is also up +37%

    Piers Morgan Tonight is up +26% vs. Larry King a year ago

    Erin Burnett OutFront is up in total viewers vs. same time period a year ago

    The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer tops MSNBC’s Hardball at 5p

    Fueled by program line-up changes throughout CNN’s schedule and the successful leveraging of breaking news stories – CNN had significant double-digit ratings growth across all dayparts in 2011 – while FNC lost viewers and MSNBC had very modest gains. CNN grew an impressive +30% in M-F primetime in 2011 and topped MSNBC in total day this year.

    Daypart Highlights:

    In M-F primetime, CNN increased +30% (242k vs. 186k) in the target demo 25-54 and +16% in total viewers (743k vs. 641k) vs. the same time period a year ago. FNC is down -16% (527k vs. 627k) in the demo and lost -10% among total viewers (2.23m vs. 2.47m) and MSNBC had slight gains in 2011, increasing just 2% (255k vs. 251k) in 25-54 and 4% in total viewers (914k vs. 881k).

    In 2011, CNN topped MSNBC in total day (6a-6a) in both the demo (163k vs. 149k) and in total viewers (485k vs. 437k). Last year MSNBC topped CNN in the total day/demo (142k vs. 134k). CNN also had the most growth in 2011, increasing +22% in the key demo vs. 2010 (163k vs. 134k), FNC was down -9% (277k vs. 304k) and MSNBC increased just 5% (149k vs. 142k).

    During dayside (9a-5p), CNN had a +71% advantage over MSNBC in the demo (161k vs. 94k) and +55% more total viewers (552k vs. 355k).

    Show Highlights:

    Since Anderson Cooper 360 moved to 8p in August, the program has shown impressive growth, up +40% in the demo (196k vs. 140k) and +31% in total viewers (623k vs. 476k) vs. same time period a year ago. Last year, MSNBC had an 86% advantage over CNN, now CNN has erased that gap and has a +5% advantage over MSNBC. Rolling up CNN’s 8p programming from the beginning of the year, CNN was the only program to show growth in 2011 — increasing +27% in the key demo (185k vs. 146k) and +17% in total viewers (599k vs. 511k); while FNC was down -15% in the demo (676k vs. 799k) and lost -7% in total viewers (2.99m vs. 3.23m). MSNBC was also down 8p this year, decreasing -19% in 25-54 (221k vs. 272k) and was down -12% in total viewers (922k vs. 1.05m).

    AC 360 at 10p topped MSNBC in both the demo (283k vs. 237k) and in total viewers (783k vs. 774k). Last year, MSNBC topped CNN at 10p in the demo. The 10p show delivered solid gains in 2011, increasing +37% among 25-54 (283k vs. 207k) and +18% in total viewers (783k vs. 666k). FNC was down -17% (401k vs. 486k) in the demo and off -12% in total viewers (1.68m vs. 1.91m) and MSNBC was up 12% in the demo (237k vs. 211k) and increased 24% among total viewers (774k vs. 624k).

    Since launching at 9p on January 17, 2011 Piers Morgan Tonight improved substantially over Larry King a year ago — increasing +26% in the key demo (222k vs. 176k) and growing +9% in total viewers (735k vs. 672k). FNC declined at 9p, losing -13% of its audience in the demo (521k vs. 597k) and is down -10% in total viewers (2.09m vs. 2.32m). This year, MSNBC is up 12% in the key demo (288k vs. 258k) and grew just 4% in total viewers (1.01m vs. 964k).

    CNN’s 7p programming this year (roll up of John King, USA and Erin Burnett OutFront) is also up vs. a year ago – increasing 22% in the key demo (174k vs. 143k) and +13% in total viewers (538k vs. 478k). Since Erin Burnett OutFront launched in October the 7p time period has registered gains of +9% among total viewers (502k vs. 460k) and +1% in the demo (142k vs. 141k) compared to the same time period a year ago.

    The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer topped MSNBC’s Hardball at 5p (177k vs. 158k) in the target demo this year and has grown +16% (177k vs. 152k) vs. a year ago.

    CNN’s Sunday morning programming has also seen solid gains in the key demo this year with State of the Union with Candy Crowley (9a) increasing +19% (162k vs. 136k), Fareed Zakaria GPS (10a) growing +24% (154k vs. 124k), and Reliable Sources is up +37% (175k vs. 128k).

    CNN Presents, home of CNN’s long-form documentary programming (Sunday at 8p) has also seen significant gains this year, increasing +38% in the target demo (174k vs. 126k) vs. the same time period a year ago.

    Audience Reach:

    Throughout 2011, CNN held a consistently strong advantage over its competitors in cumulative audience. On an average monthly basis for 2011 to date (Jan-November) CNN reached 99.4m viewers, 20% ahead of FNC (82.8m) and 23% in front of MSNBC (80.7m).

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