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CNN Sees Biggest Cable News Ratings Gain During April

Donald Trump’s legal woes in 2023 were a ratings boon for cable news outlets like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, from his indictments to his arraignments. Those extended to this year of 2024 despite it being a presidential election year.

The first criminal trial in U.S. history against a former president got underway in New York City in mid-April. Trump faces 34 felony counts alleging that he falsified New York business records as part of a scheme to cover up a hush money payment — facilitated by Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen ahead of the 2016 election —  to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump while he was married years ago. 

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While there are no cameras in the courtroom and only daily transcripts of the proceedings are made available, the trial has produced much discussion and content for cable news outlets throughout the month.

By raw numbers, the basic ranking of networks remained in both March and April: Fox News Channel as the top cable news outlet, with MSNBC and CNN trailing behind.

But in the busy news month of April, which also featured the solar eclipse from Apr. 8 and the start of the encampments and pro-Palestine protests across the nation’s college campuses (since the holiday of Passover on Apr. 22), it was CNN that saw the largest percentage growth from March. According to Nielsen Media Research’s live plus same-day data for April 1-28, 2024, CNN averaged 509,000 viewers including 88,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. That is up 10 percent in total viewers and up 5 percent among adults 25-54 from the prior 28-day period of March 3-31, 2024.

Seeing the biggest month-to-month increases on CNN was their weekly afternoon program The Lead with Jake Tapper, up 23 percent in each total viewers (to 764,000) and 25-54 demo (116,000) in its 4-5 p.m. hour; up 16 percent (to 750,000 viewers) and up 14 percent (to 115,000 adults 25-54) for 5-6 p.m. It peaked in total audience for the week of Apr. 22-26 (872,000 viewers) in the 4 p.m. hour.

CNN original programming also made significant headway on the weekend during the month of April. As previously reported, CNN won the Saturday evening of Apr. 26 with their coverage of the White House Correspondents Dinner.

For Sunday nights, their documentary series Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight (Sun, 4/7-4/14, 9p-11p) ranked #1 in cable news among 25-54 (157,000), based on Nielsen’s live plus seven-day data, ahead of Fox News by +54 percent (102k) and more than three times MSNBC (47k). It also delivered 784,000 live+7-day total viewers, +54 percent ahead of MSNBC (508k). This was the strongest performance among adults 25-54 for a CNN Original Series since season 2 of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy in 2022.   

In addition, the two-episode premiere of How It Really Happened season 8 (Sun, 4/28, 9p-11p) ranked #1 in cable news among live+7-day 25-54 with 116k, ahead of Fox News by +50 percent (77k) and more than five times MSNBC (22k). Among live+7-day total viewers, the season premiere was +148 percent ahead of MSNBC (666k vs. 269k). 

In terms of reach, where the number of unique viewers tuned in to at least one minute of news coverage, CNN was also tops in cable news in April among both total viewers and adults 25-54 (total viewers: CNN: 42.7 million, Fox News: 40.4 million, MSNBC: 31.6 million; adults 25-54: CNN: 11.2 million, Fox News: 9.8 million, MSNBC: 7.6 million).

MSNBC also saw month-over-month gains but they were smaller, at four percent (to 872,000 viewers) and two percent (to 89,000 adults 25-54) for April, versus March. The network was bolstered by its midday lineup of Jose Diaz-Balart Reports (893,000 viewers, +16 percent; 94,000 adults 25-54, +10 percent), Andrea Mitchell Reports (902,000 viewers, +21 percent; 90,000 adults 25-54, +13 percent), Chris Jansing Reports (956,000 viewers, +25 percent; 99,000 adults 25-54, +24 percent), Katy Tur Reports (1.045 million viewers, +20 percent; 105,000 adults 25-54, +24 percent) and Deadline: White House (1.678 million viewers, +13 percent; 165,000 adults 25-54, +16 percent).

With the Trump trial most in focus during the month of April, Fox News Channel had a slight month-to-month decrease, down two percent (to 1.282 million total viewers) and down one percent (to 157,000 adults 25-54).

The declines were even more pronounced at the right-wing leaning Newsmax, down 10 percent (to 160,000 viewers) and down 14 percent (to 9,000 adults 25-54).

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