Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Fox News ghetto

Ratings woes:
The most dominant cable news channel for nearly a decade and a political force in its own right, Fox has seen its once formidable advantage over CNN erode in this presidential election year, as both CNN and MSNBC have added viewers at far more dramatic rates.
While Fox News remains the most-watched cable news channel over all — it has been attracting an average of nearly 2 million viewers each weeknight this year, compared to 1.3 million for CNN and 805,000 for MSNBC — its momentum has effectively stalled, at least when measured over years past.
This highlights a problem that I've been complaining about for two years. Once Fox became No. 1 as the Republican network, a lot of conservatives proclaimed victory over the liberal MSM -- even though the three major evening news broadcasts still had a combined audience of 20 million, compared to Fox's 2 million primetime viewers.

What seems to have happened since 2004 is that the other networks, figuring that there's no point trying to compete with Fox for conservative viewers, have actually slanted their news even farther left. (This is what broadcasters call "counterprogramming" -- if the other station's showing a romantic comedy, let's show an action series.)

The success of Fox News is why the No. 1 broadcast news show, NBC's Nightly News, now looks like a 30-minute Michael Moore documentary. The NBC News producers figure, "Hey, if they don't like news that looks suspiciously like DNC talking points, let 'em watch Fox."

Think about coverage of Hurricane Katrina, for example. Conservatives watching Fox News saw the anchors and commenters describing the disaster in New Orleans as a result of failures of Democratic state and local officials. Great -- 2 million people saw that. But another 20+ million saw the other networks portray the New Orleans flooding as a result of Republican racism and incompetence.

This same scenario has occurred over and over, on issue after issue in recent years, as conservatives have stopped watching other networks and retreated to the Fox News ghetto. As much as I prefer watching Fox, I realize that even as the No. 1 cable news network, its audience is still a mere fraction of the rest of the TV news audience. There is danger in the echo-chamber effect of conservatives believing they're winning the argument just because they hear their own views expressed on "O'Reilly" or "Hannity & Colmes."

Fox's ratings have been stagnant lately because of the greater interest in the Democratic primaries, and that won't necessarily continue into the fall, but conservatives should consider the possibility that the potential audience for Fox might be maxed out in terms of their current lineup. If they were to replace O'Reilly with Laura Ingraham, I wouldn't be surprised.

1 comment:

  1. Good point. However, do you honestly believe that the other networks like CNN and MSNBC would move more to the Center if Fox became more Centrist? Not likely.

    There's a simple solution for Fox to expand its audience outside of its conservative base: Move libertarian.

    A cable news network that catered to both conservatives AND libertarians would be a huge winner!

    (Fox does this already to a small extent, but not nearly enough.)