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The Cable News Nightmare: CNN (and Piers Morgan) in crisis

STORIES aren't the only thing that high-profile studio anchors at CNN apparently know how to break. Judging by the latest ratings, they also seem to be successful at destroying the loyalty of viewers.

Figures from ratings agency Nielsen show America's most famous news brand has experienced its worst month for almost 20 years, and has parted company with more than 50pc of its audience in 12 months.

The development follows years of decline for the network, which pioneered 24-hour news in the 1980s and was the top-rated news channel for years. In recent years it has suffered intense competition from Fox News and MSNBC.

The figures also raise questions about the future of Piers Morgan, hired to shake up prime-time with a weeknight interview show. He drew an average of 417,000 viewers, a fall of 50pc and the network's worst figure for the slot since the early 1990s.

Morgan's show is admired by critics, but his audience is volatile, and seems to vary according to the calibre of guests. In early 2011, when he took over from Larry King, who boasted about 600,000 viewers, Morgan said his show should be judged "by how we settle down in between six months and a year". By that measure, he's in trouble.

May saw CNN's average audience fall to 388,000, of which a mere 113,000 are in the 25-54 age bracket that advertisers covet. The figures represent an increase in the rate of decline for the channel, which is also undermined by the internet's rise in popularity as a breaking news source.

They also suggest CNN is losing viewers quicker than rivals. For Fox, comparable figures (1.65m and 319,000) are down just under 10pc annually. MSNBC (658,000 and 213,000) is declining by about 20pc.

CNN is still regarded as the nation's most reliable TV news brand.