Did Bad Ratings Lead CNN to Oust Brian Stelter and Cancel ‘Reliable Sources’?

In June, the Sunday morning show posted its lowest ratings in the key news demo in more than two decades

Brian Stelter
Original image via Getty

Brian Stelter’s ouster from CNN may have been clinched by the network’s desire to tone down partisanship, but the poor ratings for the media correspondent’s weekly “Reliable Sources” show didn’t help his case to stay on at the network.

The Sunday morning show has had its lowest-rated year since 2015 — two years after Stelter took over as host — and has lost 26% of its total audience compared to last year. Among the key news demo of viewers 25-54, the show has lost about 34% of its viewers.

And in June, the 30-year-old program posted its worst ratings since 2001, managing only 79,000 viewers in the key news demo — and an average of 585,000 total viewers.

“Reliable Sources” bounced back a bit in July to about 108,000 average viewers in the key news demo and about 663,000 total. That’s not far off CNN’s average total-day audience for demo viewers (110,000) and comfortably above the network’s overall average audience of 541,000.

That was also good enough to top MSNBC for the timeslot — though the show lagged far behind Fox News, which had 10 programs charting ahead of “Reliable Sources” on Sundays in July. “MediaBuzz,” which airs at the same time and is hosted by former “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz, pulled an average of 140,000 demo viewers. Total viewership for “MediaBuzz” was double that of Stelter’s last month, with an average of 1.2 million.

Of course, the ratings disparity between CNN and FNC isn’t true just on Sundays. Fox News was the only cable channel to crack the seven-figure mark in total day viewership for July with an average of 1.4 million eyeballs. The network averaged about 194,000 demo viewers in total day.

Fox News has been dominating the cable networks for quite some time, but MSNBC is also faring much better than CNN in terms of total viewers. Last month, MSNBC managed 765,000 total average viewers for total day. But on Sunday mornings, “Reliable Sources” and four other CNN shows do track above any MSNBC programming.

Ratings, however, do not appear to have been the primary factor in new CNN boss Chris Licht’s decision to cancel the show and end Stelter’s nearly nine-year run at the network. Licht, who replaced Jeff Zucker earlier this year as Discovery completed its takeover of CNN parent company Warner Media, has made it very clear that he aims to tone down any politically-pointed coverage at the news network— and Stelter became a prime target.

Stelter frequently called out Fox News and other right-wing outlets on air for inaccurate and misleading reporting. Fox News often bit back, creating somewhat of a scuffle between the two networks. And while that appears to have boosted CNN’s ratings for the short term, the approach no longer seems to be working with Trump out of office.