Fox News Ratings Down (CNN’s Down Twice As Much)
The ratings at Fox News are down among viewers aged 25 to 54, leading Scott Collins of the LAT to speculate on the cause.
Some recent ratings news no doubt gladdened the hearts of Fox News Channel haters. First, Nielsen Media Research reported that Fox News’ overall prime-time lineup dropped 17% last month compared with a year ago (MSNBC grew 16% during the same period, while CNN plummeted by 38%). Late last week, a reliable television industry website, TVNewser.com, reported that in April, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had his worst month in nearly five years among viewers age 25 to 54, the most coveted audience in TV news.
Although the network still churns out ratings light-years ahead of competitors’ and O’Reilly remains cable news’ No. 1 host, Fox News’ explosive growth appears to be, like the president’s 90% approval rating in the days following Sept. 11, a relic from the first Bush term. That’s the elephant in the room, of course — the broadly assumed, and occasionally documented, affinity between Fox News and the current administration (Vice President Dick Cheney’s office prepared a hotel checklist, recently posted on TheSmokingGun.com, that ordered “all televisions tuned to Fox News” during Cheney visits). Could it be mere coincidence that O’Reilly, populist scourge of both Clintons and countless left-wing causes, is seeing his still-formidable nightly audience of 2.1 million or so start to shrink in tandem with the Bush/GOP’s rapidly fading grip on the electorate?
Except that CNN’s ratings are down more than twice Fox’s decline, despite starting from a lower base. If Fox were going to decline along with the Bush administration, wouldn’t we expect CNN to go up?
O’Reilly’s thoroughly delighted rivals think not. “When the stock market was through the roof in the ’90s, people used to sit around and watch CNBC and slap high fives and say, ‘I made another hundred bucks today!’ ” said MSNBC host and O’Reilly foe Keith Olbermann, adding that CNBC’s ratings quickly went south when the tech bubble burst. “I think the same psychology applies to Fox. They’ll always have their hard-core audience that wants to hear, ‘Everything’s great! [Bush is] doing a great job.’ ” But less-partisan viewers are drifting away, Olbermann argued.
Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, agrees. “Maybe this is part of the deal with the devil you make when a supposed news network allies itself so closely with one point of view,” he said.
To be fair and balanced here: Olbermann’s “Countdown” competes head to head with “The O’Reilly Factor” and the two hosts have been engaged in a months-long feud. Although Olbermann’s ratings climbed 35% last month, his total audience remains less than one-fourth the size of O’Reilly’s.
As for CNN, its lineup showed far greater erosion last month than Fox’s. “We’re down because we had such a phenomenal year last year,” Klein said. The one major growth story at CNN is Lou Dobbs, whose program seems to add viewers in direct proportion to its host’s fiercely expressed views against illegal immigration.
So, we have a guy who goes head to head with O’Reilly and gets a quarter of his ratings analyzing O’Reilly’s dropoff? Based on a one month trend? During a month when O’Reilly was on vacation for seven days?
And CNN remains light years behind Fox in the ratings despite a huge initial lead and a “phenomenal” 2005? And their only growth industry is a guy expressing populist conservative views?
Fox’s argument that there has just been a natural lull in the news lately with no stories riveting the public is dismissed with several paragraphs around the unsupported thesis, “Perhaps it’s that the network isn’t thoroughly engaging the issues that are giving the administration so many troubles.” Again, though, unless CNN is also ignoring these issues, this would not seem to account for the plummeting ratings there.
Patrick Frey also weighs in on this story, wondering why his favorite paper pays so much attention to Fox’s fall while treating CNN’s as a parenthetical. While I understand the focus on Fox, which is both the ratings leader and the symbol of a new style in news hated by many in the business, one would think that Collins’ editor would have at least done a logical comparison of Fox and CNN vis-a-vis the analysis made in the piece.