Oh how the mighty have fallen. There was a time when if someone said "cable news," the first thought would be CNN. No longer is this the case. The monthly ratings were released this week, marking CNN's third lowest rated month in a row. How low were their ratings, you ask? Well, let's just say this: CNBC, a cable news network rarely even considered, had higher viewers during its repeat airings of ABC's Shark Tank. Let me say that again, CNBC is airing old episodes of Shark Tank and more people are watching that than any show on CNN at all.
Here is a story about the once cable giant.
A long time ago in a cable spectrum far, far away CNN was it for 24-hour news networks. It shook up the television news spectrum. It made other news sources quiver in its path. It cared about breaking news and getting the facts straight, and the universe cared that they cared about getting the facts straight. But this all changed.
Two new channels entered the galaxy, Fox News and MSNBC. They were like brother and sister playing on opposite teams, the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser. Rather than presenting the "just the facts" model of news, they created super-star "anchors" who didn't need to hit the streets and gather information, but instead sat in front of green screens and argued loudly about one side of the coin or the other. These pundits became well known for being nothing but talking heads, which doesn't quite mean that they have no bodies, but it might mean they have no souls.
The opposing networks expanded. The bodiless heads grew in size and stature. They took over radio stations; the wrote editorials in like-minded periodicals. They wrote books that made little to no sense with extreme titles like "Killing Jesus," Killing Kennedy," and "Killing Lincoln." They wrote about killing, in a sense, and these books sold like hotcakes. These floating heads never stopped talking.
What was CNN to do? In April of 2013, CNN decided that they too could play that game, so they entered the rebranding chamber of solitude and reemerged a new/old network. Their fearless leader, Jeff Zucker, promised to "broaden the definition" of news, which means absolutely nothing when you really think about it. Rather than pushing more news, the network hired non-journalists like Anthony Bourdain, who gets paid to wander aimlessly in unknown locals and eat food. They aired endless amounts of coverage of Justin Beiber and a show called "Crimes of the Century," a program literally about crimes of the century.
They touted their star power, which amounted to little more than Anderson Cooper, who has at least 85 different jobs and can be seen regularly at red carpet events. They gave one of their top-rated shows to Piers Morgan, who the galaxy previously knew as that guy who gave honestly thoughtful criticism to child armpit farters and hula hooping seniors. And people are really not that into Piers Morgan - sorry to say. The channel basically became a lesser-quality version of itself.
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The universe reacted. "If we want to watch Justin Beiber coverage, we will watch Headline News or Entertainment Tonight," they cried. "And if we want to watch meaningless television that pretends to be news, we will watch Fox or MSNBC or TMZ or anything other than you!" they shouted loudly through their magical Nielsen ratings boxes.
And so for the third month in a row, CNN has seen its viewers disappear into the abyss of cable news. And when I say "viewers" obviously I am talking about the 25-54 demographic because really there is no other age group that anyone cares about.
So what is the great warrior CNN to do, and does the universe even need their power in the force anymore?
Maybe, if CNN returned to its humble beginnings as an honest source for news, the galaxy will return to watching it, but it might just be too late for it do anything.