If you watch a lot of programming on CNN like I do (and before you start in on me, I get paid to do it), you’ve probably noticed something. The network has been packing their schedule with a series of town halls featuring nearly every one of the 19 current candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a bad idea in principle since the voters deserve the chance to get to know all of the contenders. Yes, it would be nice if they stopped lobbing softballs at most of them, but at least the ones with lower name recognition are being given a chance to attract a following.
But how is that working out in terms of ratings? As the Daily Caller pointed out last week… not so great, really. In fact, in a season where CNN’s ratings have already taken a nosedive, these town halls have proven to be even less attractive to the network’s target audience.
CNN had its lowest primetime weekly ratings overall and in the key age demographic last week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
From April 8-12, the network only averaged an audience of 690,000 people and 180,000 in the key 25-54 age demographic. Their coverage last week included three presidential town halls with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
Gillibrand’s town hall only had 507,000 viewers, compared to Inslee’s 549,000 and Castro’s 654,000.
Comparatively, last week, MSNBC’s prime time lineup averaged 1,600,000 viewers with 249,000 in the key demo. Fox News managed to beat CNN and MSNBC combined, with a total viewership of 2,438,000 and 394,000 in the age range.
Those are some brutal numbers. The Gillibrand town hall, in particular, was a spectacular flop. An exclusive event with a presidential candidate that barely pulls in a half million viewers overall is about the figurative equivalent of the number of people you could reach by shouting out of a window in Manhattan.
That’s not slowing CNN down one bit, however. They’re holding five back-to-back, one-hour town halls tonight (and running a constant countdown clock in the chyron all day), taking up nearly all of their regular prime-time slots. They’ll be hosting Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg in that order.
If nothing else, this should give us the opportunity to answer one obvious question about the ratings slide for these events. Are the low numbers because of the candidates being featured or is it just because people aren’t watching CNN? This is a good spread of candidates to test the theory. When Bernie Sanders went on Fox for his own special there the ratings were through the roof. But Fox always does well in the ratings race. Were the numbers that high because Bernie is a huge draw or just because it took place on Fox?
Tonight CNN will have Sanders all to themselves in the prime 9:00 eastern slot. They also have Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 11:00 and he’s pretty much the flavor of the week at the moment. Conversely, Klobuchar, Warren, and Harris haven’t been generating much heat. If those three produce lukewarm numbers but Sanders and Buttigieg soar well into the millions, we’ll know it’s the fault of the less interesting candidates. But if they can’t deliver a spike in viewership with Bernie and Mayor Pete, then perhaps people just aren’t interested in tuning in to CNN these days.