Fall primetime insights: cable news networks


Baseline Intelligence Media analysts Steve Sternberg and Shari Anne Brill have teamed for their latest report, Primetime TV Insight: The 2011 Fall TV Preview Edition. This is their take on the new fall shows. Yesterday we looked at mid-age skewing entertainment networks. Today, it’s cable news networks:

Despite calling themselves news networks, during the early evening through primetime dayparts FOX News as well as MSNBC are purveyors of opinionated commentary. If you watched either channel you will easily pick up on which direction they lean in less than five minutes.

FOX News likes to position itself as the opposition to the so-called “mainstream news media.” Its unique voice, which they refer to as “fair and balanced” (and clearly is not), often attracts more viewers in primetime (and other dayparts) than all the other cable news networks combined. It is the highest-rated, oldest skewing and by far, most male skewing network in the category.

FOX News, with The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, spends most of its time railing against the Obama administration, “mainstream media,” and liberals as do its other weekend hosts. The ever brash Glenn Beck, known for his controversial point-of-view, experienced a pronounced advertiser backlash. Consequently, his contract was not renewed and he will be moving on to other challenging projects and opportunities. Beck officially left the building on June 30th.

FOX News just announced a summer replacement show that gets underway on July 11th. The Five is an ensemble news program that will feature a number of rotating Fox News personalities familiar to their audience including Judge Andrew Napolitano, Juan Williams, Monica Crowley, Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino, Bob Beckel, Andrea Tantaros, and John Stossel. Glenn Beck repeats will air until The Five makes its debut.

Just because Beck left Fox News doesn’t mean he will be leaving the airwaves. Glenn Beck and his Mercury Radio Arts multi-media production company announced the launch of GBTV, a live streaming video network. It gets underway on September 12th. His new daily video show will stream at 5pm, directly opposite the very time slot he occupied at FOX News.

GBTV claims they already have 80,000 paying subscribers. Consumers are charged $4.95/month for access to Beck’s weekday 5pm show or $9.95 for GBTV Plus which offers them full access to the other content available on GBTV. Based on these numbers Beck will be taking in approximately $400,000
per month.

MSNBC promotes itself as the place to “Lean Forward” though “Lean More to the Left than the other Guys” would be a more realistic descriptor. During early evening through primetime, the network features the likes of Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Laurence O’Donnell, and Rachel Maddow, who spend most of their time railing against conservative Republicans, The Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and FOX News. One might say that MSNBC’s POV is the polar opposite to FOX News (and just as unfair and unbalanced).

Keith Olbermann, formerly host of Countdown, left MSNBC at the end of January. He has joined Current TV and his fans will be able to once again watch him rage against the Right Wing machine. Olbermann’s new Countdown show, which launched on June 20th, airs at 8pm, directly opposite his former slot on MSNBC. Repeat telecasts of Countdown air at 11pm, 2am, 7am, 12noon and 3pm.

At this writing, official ratings information is not yet publically available. According to a spokesperson at the network, Keith Olbermann, who also has an equity stake in the company, is committed to the success of both his show as well as to the long-term success of CurrentTV.

Over the next few years Current TV intends to transform itself into a news and information network representing a liberal and independent point-of-view.

Another strategic goal is to drive increased distribution for the channel, which is available in 60 million U.S. TV Households.

CNN is editorially more balanced than MSNBC or FOX News, but it does clearly lean toward a liberal perspective. After 25 years Larry King, who had a one hour interview show, decided to call it a day and left his anchor chair on December 17th, 2010. On January 17th, Piers Morgan’s new interview show debuted. His series brings in more viewers than King did during his final year with the network.

CNN’s ratings have declined dramatically from two years ago (though its numbers do tend to bounce back up during a Presidential election year). CNN has said it doesn’t care much about ratings (the network is currently in third place among households and all key demos in the category). It sees itself as the only cable news network not aligned with a partisan point of view, and that they are the most trusted news source for both viewers and advertisers. While this attitude sounds laudable, ratings do matter when your business uses ratings as trading currency for selling ad time. And once you start saying ratings don’t matter, they tend to decline further (see NBC). Accordingly, CNN has heavily emphasized its integrated multiplatform capabilities as a key selling point.

The fact that FOX News leads the way, with MSNBC in a distant second place, indicates that viewers are generally more interested in watching daily “news” that reinforces their own point of view, rather than something with a more balanced approach. But that is not necessarily the case when major news stories break.

CNN sibling HLN has experienced a positive ratings story. Nancy Grace, which airs at 8pm, has been finishing second in the hour (behind Bill O’Reilly) due to the huge public interest in the Casey Anthony murder trial. Joy Behar’s show finishes second among the news networks in the 10pm hour among total viewers and adults 35-64. CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 finishes second in the hour among adults 25-54. The network is fourth overall in the category among households and female demos.

While the cable news networks continue to sell themselves as targeting adults 25-54, that is really just a small part of their audience. With average median ages that range from 55 to 64, their viewers are primarily adults 50+ or 55+. Note that the main three so-called news networks all have median ages of 60+.