When I go to an airport, CNN is on all the TVs in the passenger waiting areas. You can't change the channel to Fox News, or anything else, sadly. If you want TV, you are held captive to the CNN channel, and some of their shows can be painful to watch, even for a short while.
My other CNN experience is on the way to work in the morning at Crystal City in Arlington, VA. In the underground shopping mall, a few large-screen TVs are set up in two common areas. In the first, there is one TV and it is turned to CNN, and, as usual, you can't change the channel. In the other area, there are 3 TVs screens roughly 5 feet apart from each other. Two of them are turned to CNN while, amazingly, the one on the far end is tuned to ESPN. No, you can't change the channels.
How much of CNN's small audience is due to their captive audiences in airports and malls that force customers to watch?
I think the continued leftward drift of CNN contributes to a smaller audience as well. Over the years, it has shifted from somewhere near the middle of the political spectrum to somewhere closer to the fringe. And the fringe enjoys many players, MSNBC among them. And when you move to the fringe, you lose a lot of people who notice you're no longer in the realm of the political center and its environs.
Without question, Fox News speaks to many more Americans than CNN or MSNBC combined. I think Fox News gives viewres a sense that they are somewhere in that middle area--on the right side of it, but still within the environs of the political Middle. CNN isn't. And it needs hardly be said MSNBC isn't either.
Expectations of CNN are different from expectations of radical leftist websites, such as Daily Kos. CNN, in the minds of Americans, isn't supposed to be a radical news and opinion outlet, yet it seems more like it all the time.
As for airports and shopping malls, I wish they'd turn the channel to something like the Food Network or A&E. Or maybe even America's news choice, Fox News.