Elon Musk Claims CNN's Decline Amid Don Lemon Dispute as Ratings Plunge

Network embarks on transformative journey with digital focus.

by Zain ul Abedin
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Elon Musk Claims CNN's Decline Amid Don Lemon Dispute as Ratings Plunge
© Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

In a contentious social media exchange, X owner Elon Musk starkly proclaimed that "CNN is dying," igniting a fierce debate over the network's future amidst declining viewer numbers and ongoing internal turmoil. This assertion came on the heels of Musk ending a partnership with former CNN host Don Lemon, criticizing Lemon's new social media-based show as reminiscent of CNN's unsuccessful formula.

CNN has been embroiled in a whirlwind of challenges, including leadership upheavals, high-profile scandals, significant layoffs, and continuous shifts in programming, all while grappling with dwindling viewership numbers.

The network's viewership plummeted to an all-time low in 2023, marking its worst performance in over three decades, with an average prime-time audience of just 582,000 viewers, trailing behind networks like TLC, Hallmark, and HGTV.

This downward spiral in ratings has sparked intense speculation about the network's viability, especially after consecutive years of record-low viewership. The situation was so dire that CNN's own media reporter publicly pondered whether the network's "lackluster" performance could be salvaged.

CNN's Digital Revival

Despite these setbacks, CNN is making concerted efforts to rejuvenate its brand and appeal, particularly through digital innovation. Mark Thompson, CNN's CEO, has outlined ambitious plans to revitalize the network by tapping into the pioneering spirit that characterized CNN's early days.

This includes bolstering its presence on digital platforms and the Max streaming service, which the company views as a critical asset. Thompson's strategies signify a departure from the network's previous leadership under Chris Licht, whose tenure was marred by internal dissent and a perceived shift towards a more partisan approach.

Thompson's focus is on recapturing CNN's original ethos of groundbreaking news coverage, particularly through enhanced mobile digital formats aimed at engaging younger audiences. Industry experts offer mixed views on CNN's prospects.

While some, like journalist-turned-investor Porter Bibb, believe in the network's capacity to adapt and thrive, especially during major global events, others like DePauw University journalism professor Jeffrey McCall are less optimistic.

McCall points to systemic issues, including CNN's struggle to define its brand in a rapidly evolving digital landscape and its perceived partisan bias, as significant hurdles to regaining its former prominence. Amidst these challenges, CNN's ability to reinvent itself and remain a relevant news source in an age dominated by platforms like TikTok, with its vast, youthful audience, remains a pivotal question.

As the network endeavors to navigate these turbulent waters, the broader media landscape watches closely to see if CNN can reclaim its position as a leading news outlet in the digital era.

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