CNN's Big Trump Ratings Bubble Begins to Collapse

In the world of economics, there are sometimes events that we call “bubbles.” This event, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a situation in which asset prices appear to be based on implausible or inconsistent views about the future.”


 “It could also,” the site goes on to say, “be described as trade in an asset at a price or price range that strongly exceeds the asset’s intrinsic value.”

For a while now, CNN’s ratings have been bolstered largely by the existence of Donald Trump in mainstream American politics. Like many networks, CNN propped up Trump as a viable candidate until it was clear he would become the nominee, and then they relentlessly launched attacks on him from that moment to the end of his presidency, and even beyond. They made it clear their relationship with Trump is an adversarial one, and they relished in the ratings spike that came with it.

That ratings spike appears to be the “price range that strongly exceeds the asset’s intrinsic value.” We are now more than a full week into Joe Biden’s presidency, and the bubble has officially burst. Via Variety:

In the first week of the Biden administration, the AT&T-owned news channel saw the audiences that had been flooding into primetime recently drop precipitously on Jan. 25-29 compared with the highs of previous weeks. Meanwhile, rival Fox News Channel saw its own ratings only dip slightly after weeks of registering its own sharp declines.

Another network that has been characterized as left-leaning, MSNBC, has also seen significant declines but nowhere near as steep as what has hit CNN: Variety Intelligence Platform’s analysis of the viewership data across two key metrics—the target news demographic for people ages 25-54, and the total audience watching—shows that CNN ended the final week of January with ratings dropping roughly 44% for total audience versus the prior week across all three hours of primetime.


My colleague, Brandon Morse, has more:

The conversation likely happening in meeting rooms right now at CNN is what they can now focus on to bring their audiences back. It needs a Trump-level threat to get people’s eyes and ears to refocus on the network.

At this juncture, it’s good to remind everyone that CNN, and indeed all news organizations, aren’t public services. They’re businesses with a vested interest in making you pay attention to them. It’s a common practice to sensationalize something far beyond its actual level of interest in order to have you riveted to your seat, and your eyes glued to the screen.

In all fairness, this is one week into it, and short-term data is not always the most reliable. But, this dip was anticipated by most media observers, and it’s a large part of the reason networks are still so focused on Trump, his impeachment, and stories regarding the last days of his presidency. They are trying to keep that high going.

It’s also why they are laser-focused on politicians like Marjorie Taylor-Greene. Not because it’s abnormal for politicians to hold weird or controversial views, but because they want to tie those views to the larger Republican base. The Democratic Party is all-too-happy to take advantage and keep the spotlight on these issues, but at this point, they are all fairly moot.

CNN has been one of the biggest disappointments of this era. While CNN has always had a left-of-center lean, they had good folks on the air and several who genuinely tried to stay relatively balanced. But as the editorial edicts came down, it was clear that there was a marketing decision that was made to make everything as much about Trump as possible, and there was more than enough leeway given to otherwise balanced guys like Jake Tapper to absolutely let loose with all their biases. It has been tragic to see.

AP Photo/Ron Harris

Journalism has overall suffered because of the media’s devotion to making everything about opposing Trump. Slogans like “This is an apple” and “Democracy dies in darkness” were marketing campaigns and nothing more. CNN had to retract major stories because they wanted to nail Trump, truth be damned.

Now, we see what their slavish devotion to opposing Trump has been. People watched for the freak show, and now that it’s gone, they have little reason to keep the TV on. I think the trend we saw over the last week will hold, and I think media organizations will have to scramble to try and keep Trump relevant OR find the “next Trump” to try and pick the ratings back up.



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