Cable news used to be a growth sector for the media industry. Now it's shrinking.
According to Pew's annual study on the news media, all three major cable news channels--CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News--lost viewers in 2010 for the first time in at least a dozen years, in the biggest year-to-year decline in viewership since Pew began collecting data on cable news in 1997.
CNN fared worst in 2010, losing 37 percent of its primetime viewers, while Fox News shed 11 percent and MSNBC only 5 percent, allowing it to overtake CNN for second place behind the still-dominant Fox. The data indicates that Fox has experienced only two ratings drops since 2001, and that both have come during midterm election years. MSNBC viewership, meanwhile, soared in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election and has since stayed relatively flat, while CNN's audience has plummeted following the presidential election.
What explains cable news' dismal showing? Analysts have offered four main explanations:
Two-Trick Pony Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis says that nowadays, cable news has mainly become a source for (sometimes irrelevant) breaking news and "propaganda for the left or the right." The number of people that "watch any of these cable news networks is a small part of the television audience as a whole," he adds, "and it isn’t hard to see why."