Legacy news outlets saw their ratings crash in 2021 compared with 2020’s numbers, partially fueled by an overall lack of interest in news.
Cable news networks were the main form of evening entertainment for millions of Americans last year. In 2021, weekday prime-time viewership dropped 38 percent at CNN, 34 percent at Fox News Channel, and 25 percent at MSNBC, according to the Nielsen company, which provides ratings for networks.
For 2021, Fox News was again the top-rated cable news network, overtaking CNN and MSNBC, the ratings show.
The Trump era saw explosive subscriber growth for some digital news sites such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Now, readers are less likely to spend time on those websites, according to data provided by Comscore, The Associated Press reported.
The number of unique visitors to The Washington Post’s site was down 44 percent in November compared to November 2020, and down about 34 percent for The New York Times during the same period, the firm noted.
Those networks have remained focused on political news content even as interest has slumped. Media monitoring firm NewsWhip told AP that it analyzed 14 million political articles published online in 2020, finding they had an average of 924 engagements on social media. But in 2021, political articles plummeted to an average of 321 engagements, according to the company.
Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC have programming decisions to make next year: CNN has to replace its formerly most popular host, Chris Cuomo, who was terminated after it was reported that he secretly helped his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during a political scandal. And MSNBC has to come up with a solution after host Brian Williams announced several weeks ago that he would be leaving the company.
In the past week, CNN’s ratings have cratered to about 585,000 total viewers during the primetime slot, with the network dropping to 17th place among basic cable channels. The channel’s 120,000 viewers in the key primetime demographic pushed it to 31st place among all cable stations.
MSNBC’s top host, Rachel Maddow, also is reportedly aiming to scale back her show’s schedule next year, although it hasn’t been confirmed and no official announcement has been made. Maddow has consistently been the network’s top performer ratings-wise for years.
At the same time, 100 to 120 local newspapers shut down in 2021, Penelope Muse Abernathy, a professor at Northwestern University, told AP. Abernathy noted that local newspapers, however, saw an increase in subscriptions that was, in part, driven by an initial interest in local COVID-19 information, although, as she noted, interest in the pandemic has dwindled in recent months as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.