CNN Brags About Ratings for Debate, but in Reality They Performed About As Well As President Biden

Townhall Media

Going into Thursday’s fiasco of a presidential debate one of the storylines had been the unique set of parameters set up for the event, seemingly done for the approval of the Biden campaign. One of the new protocols was there would be no audience for the event, with some caustically noticing that this was fitting for CNN as the network is used to not having an audience.

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This is not an entirely baseless joke, as CNN has been a distant third in the news network ratings race for years. When all the news programs are ranked, the highest-placed CNN shows generally struggle to even crack the top 25. Things appear more embarrassing on the general cable television charts as the network is routinely beaten in primetime by options such as The Food Network, The Hallmark Channel, and even INSP, which basically offers western show reruns.

The network is also trying to ignore that it is facing a serious defamation trial, in which a segment that ran on debate co-moderator Jake Tapper's show "The Lead" is accused of slanderous reporting. 


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This is why it was not surprising to see CNN hungry to run a debate, as well as it was amusing to see them crowing about the results. The debate numbers across all of the networks granted the feed, as well as those alternate platforms offering streaming, came in with the revised number of just over 51 million viewers. The network strained mightily to find the bragging rights for this return.

"More people watched the CNN Presidential Debate than any other CNN program in history,” the network said. The debate was also the most watched non-sports program of the year so far on television. The telecast also drew the largest audience on record for CNN on the Max streaming service, though the network did not disclose audience figures.

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(That last line is a bit of a head-scratcher, coming from the network itself.)

 CNN did have to recognize some reality. This return was more than a 30 percent drop from the past debates between the same two candidates and marks some of the lowest debate ratings going all the way back to the Bush-Gore years. Yet CNN wanted to paint this as a win in some formats. “Thursday night’s debate was a marketing coup, coming at a pivotal moment for the network as it works to reverse declining ratings and embarks on a strategy to revolutionize the four-decade-old network in the digital era.”

This is in reference to the work ahead for CNN’s newest CEO, Mark Thompson, who has stated that he is eyeing a pathway for the network to transition towards the digital realm, seeing as how they have been getting hammered in the ratings for some time. Ever since the merger between Discovery and Warner, the prospects of CNN have been in question, with speculation about possibly selling or spinning off the struggling enterprise always a lingering topic. Thompson marks the second CEO replacement to occur since that merger was finalized in April of 2022.


His vision is not without cause. One week ago the network saw its primetime lineup deliver just 77,000 viewers in the coveted advertising demo. That is another new nadir, as it represents a 33-year low in that category. Anderson Cooper is an expensive host few will watch nightly, Kaitlan Collins has been shrill and distancing, and Abby Phiilip in the 10 pm slot has been so routinely regarded as a charisma-free hostess some are referring to her as “Ambien” Phillip. 

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Whatever fleeting good fortune Thursday’s event may have delivered, it will be a short-lived celebration. Many inside the network are expecting upcoming dismissals and layoffs as the expensive talent continues to deliver diminishing returns.

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