News networks saw a significant drop in viewership in 2021, according to Nielsen data, after many networks drew bigger audiences the previous year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 presidential election, among other big stories.
The drop in viewership this year was larger among cable news networks, The Associated Press reported, citing Nielsen data, with a 38 percent drop in weekday prime-time viewership for CNN, 34 percent drop for Fox News Channel and 25 percent drop for MSNBC.
Network news channels fared somewhat better than their cable counterparts, with viewership at ABC's "World News Tonight” and "CBS Evening News” dropping by 12 percent each and viewership for NBC’s “Nightly News" dropping by 14 percent.
Outlets such as CNN have recently turned to other revenue opportunities, including making investments in streaming services. For example, CNN hired former NBC News anchor Kasie Hunt as an anchor for its streaming service in August and announced earlier this month that longtime "Fox News Sunday" host Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceWolf Blitzer will host an evening newscast on CNN's streaming service Audie Cornish hired by CNN, will host show and podcast on streaming service The five biggest media stories of 2021 MORE would join its streaming service in early 2022.
During former President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE's term in office, many news outlets saw their viewership and subscriber base grow while covering the frenetic pace of activity by the federal government. With President BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE now in office, news outlets have seen what some have called a "post-Trump slump" in audience engagement.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Fox News was the most watched cable news channel for a sixth consecutive year, commanding 44 percent of the day audience and 47 percent of the primetime audience in 2021. Like CNN, Fox News's streaming service, Fox Nation, acquired a big name this year when it was announced in September that Piers Morgan would be joining to host a new show set to air in 2022.
Citing Comscore data, the AP noted that the number of unique visitors at The Washington Post's website dropped by 44 percent in November compared to the previous year, around the time of the 2020 election, while it dropped by 34 percent at The New York Times.
Still, audience engagement also tends to rise during election years, and many network heads anticipate drops following elections. News media analyst Ken Doctor told the AP that the fall in viewership this year was "entirely predictable."
Tobe Berkovitz, a political communications professor at Brown University, told Agence France-Presse earlier this year that "Trump was the goose that laid the golden egg and that was especially true for the cable networks and dominant newspapers." He said that Biden, who he described as "boring," does not provide the "drama" seen in the previous White House.
The professor suggested that viewers and readers needed "a break from the hysteria" and would likely turn away from news content in favor of scripted entertainment.
This story was updated at 5:31 p.m.