Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Fox News Delusion

by Cylinsier

A short while ago, reports started circulating that more people watch Fox News than any other cable news channel, and ever since the far right conservatives of the country have been creaming their jeans over it. Nevermind the fact that celebrating this basically meaningless statistic lends a lot of credence to the claims that Fox News is the mouthpiece of the GOP, something that these same orgasmic fans deny. The fact of the matter is that its a bunch of horseshit, a clever twisting of viewership numbers to sell a premise, that Fox News broadcasts the best shows, that is simply not true. And there are a large number of reasons why, so many that its hard to decide where to start.

But of course, I did decide. However, before I get to that, I'm going to be comparing data sets from two different studies from the same source. The first is Network News viewership and the second is Cable News viewership.

So, let's start with Cable News compared to Network News. This one is pretty easy. We'll compare prime time viewership of cable news with nighttime viewership of network news; its not a totally fair comparison because they are two different products, but its a good indicator of where people are going to get their news. Viewership is in amount per night.

Using CBS news to represent the networks (because it is the lowest in ratings of the three), network news brings in a hair over 6 million viewers. Compare that to 4.5 million viewers FOR ALL OF CABLE NEWS, and you will see that more people grab their news from CBS before bed at night than do CNN, HN, MSNBC and Fox combined. And if you really want to blow it away, combine all three networks. Together they comprise close to 23 million viewers. You could compare nighttime network viewership to daytime cable viewership if you wanted, but the disparity is even greater. Despite the fact that cable news is on all day, that one block of network news at night still pulls in more viewers. If nothing else, this at least frames the cable news debate as what it is: not really important.

But this isn't about where people get their news anyway. Its about which cable channel entertains the most and pulls in the most viewers. So which is it? Fox News, right? Well, not really. See, the research that got conservatives foaming at the mouths about how great Fox News is was a listing of top rated cable news shows. Huffington Post (sorry, but they had the data spelled out the best, so live with the cite, conservatives), points out that 9 out of 10 of the top rated cable shows are on Fox News. Hey, we're not even talking cable news at this point, but all of cable! Pretty good...they also score 2 and a quarter million viewers in this poll to CNN's 1.1 million (the next closest cable news network). My cable news source above corroborates those numbers in this graph:


Cut and dry? Not quite. It really depends on the method you want to use to measure viewers. The above graph uses the nightly method of measuring how many viewers are watching a program at any one time, the method that almost everyone uses to measure ratings. But there is another method of measurement, cumulative viewers per year. That method measures the total number of unique visitors in a year, not unlike measuring unique hits to a web site. Well, how do you think the news channels stack up in that regard?


CNN has over 10 million more viewers a year? And by the end of 2008, MSNBC was tied with Fox? Oh, the humanity!

Of course, Fox quickly discounts this method of measurement because it is considered inaccurate by advertisers. Fair enough, I can see how an advertiser wants to put their money down on a time slot with the most viewers at any one time, not try to take a shot in the dark from a cume measurement. But outside of advertising, it is a pretty telling measurement of how the channels are doing on the whole. This can mean only that Fox gets great viewership for those 9 shows in the top 10, and then everyone stops watching. Or, it might mean something else, something that isn't broached upon in these studies. It might mean people watch more than one cable news channel.

It is important to point out that the above graph (at least I think) is combining CNN proper and Headline News into one number. If you split them apart, would they both rank below the others? I don't know because I don't know how much of the total each channel represents, but probably. That would leave Fox News and MSNBC in a dead heat for first in cume. But this illustrates another point that is overlooked by Fox News fanatics, and that is that Fox News and other cable news are apples and oranges. If you want to watch crazy people, you have one channel to choose from: Fox News. There is no competition. If you want to watch non-crazy news, you have a lot more choices.

The best way to illustrate the point of this is with an analogy. I stole these numbers off various internet sites but since they are just being used for the analogy, assume they are correct without me posting ten sources. Let's say Fox is booze, CNN is Coke and MSNBC is Pepsi. Every year, Americans consume around 30 million gallons of alcohol. They consume around 25 million gallons of Coke and a little less than that of Pepsi. So alcohol is the most popular beverage. Yes, if you break the competition down into sub-categories. But if you combine all colas, Americans consume 50 million gallons a year, a pretty good margin of difference.

Fox News is booze. CNN, MSNBC and Headline News are cola, just different brands. Yes, Americans drink more booze over all than they do any one brand of cola, but when you consider that Americans only drink less Coke because they also have Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Root Beer to choose from, it makes sense that Coke would have a decreased performance; they have competition. Booze, when there's only one source of it, is booze. If you want booze, you drink from that one source. If you want crazy people, you watch Fox News because you have no choice.

Just one more thing. A recent study indicates that the average age of Fox News viewers is 65. This is the highest of the cable news channels. The current life expectancy in the US is 78 (and bound to go down now that we've stopped checking for breast cancer and can't get reform through Congress). There are only two scenarios that explain this high age, and neither is good for Fox. The first is that no young people watch them, meaning if their oldest viewers are around 80, then their youngest viewers are around 50. That brings out an easy 65 average. The other option is that young people do watch Fox News. But if they do, there are very few. Because few people get past 80, the number of people over 65 would have to be much higher than the number of much younger viewers to pull the average back up. Either way, Fox News is looking at a significant drop in viewership in about 15 to 20 years, or when the baby boomers start to drop. Glory is fleeting.

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21 comments:

Wesley said...

HLN and CNN are not combined. But no mater how you slice it Fox news has the most viewers. Nielsen is the gold standard om this.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2009 The Nielsen Company. All Rights Reserved.
Cable News Ratings for Monday, November 16, 2009
Posted on 18 November 2009 by Robert Seidman
P2+ = viewers over the age of 2
(25-54) = Adults 25-54 viewing
(35-64) = Adults 35-64 viewing
Prime Time = 8-11pm

P2+ Total Day
FNC – 1,330,000 viewers
CNN – 435,000 viewers
MSNBC –381,000 viewers
CNBC – 205,000 viewers
HLN –301,000 viewers

P2+ Prime Time
FNC – 2,539,000 viewers
CNN – 705,000 viewers
MSNBC –856,000 viewers
CNBC – 178,000 viewers
HLN –567,000 viewers

25-54 Total Day
FNC –356,000 viewers
CNN –124,000 viewers
MSNBC –119,000 viewers
CNBC – 67,000 viewers
HLN- 140,000 viewers

25-54 Prime Time
FNC – 717,000 viewers
CNN – 229,000 viewers
MSNBC –287,000 viewers
CNBC – 95,000 viewers
HLN – 229,000 viewers

35-64 Total Day
FNC – 621,000 viewers
CNN – 182,000 viewers
MSNBC – 183,000 viewers
CNBC – 107,000 viewers
HLN – 181,000 viewers

35-64 Prime Time
FNC –1,176,000 viewers
CNN – 309,000 viewers
MSNBC –430,000 viewers
CNBC – 92,000 viewers
HLN –319,000 viewers

Ellipses said...

I want to say that Nielson is NOT the gold standard for anything (other than polishing turds)... but I can't say why without giving away information about the company I work for (we compete with Nielson on a core product in a number of markets).

So, I will go at this from some ancillary angles.

1. What is Fox's "unduplicated reach?" This is the figure Cy was getting at in his post. How much overlap is there in daypart viewership over a 7 day cume or 7 day time-shifted cume? Example: 1 million people watch fox all day every day. Your reach in that scenario is 1,000,000 people. To an advertiser, this is great because if you buy a rotator on Fox, you don't have to worry about your cume reach, you can count more on getting a high frequency since you have a consistent audience. However, on station B, you have a more variable audience. 200,000 people watch on Monday, 200,000 DIFFERENT people watch on Tuesday, etc. Over 7 days, your unduplicated reach is 1.4 million, but your intraday ratings never break 250k. This is ALSO a boon to advertisers, but to a different kind. Here, you get a deeper reach, but you have less frequency. Therefore, if you are advertising a high-frequency, impulse buy item, you may do better on the deeper-reach channel. If you are advertising a car, you want the message to get hammered home, so you want a higher frequency.

The second point is: we are talking about 8 tenths of 1% of the total population. Holding that up as a beacon of success is like winning the special olympics :-)

Cylinsier said...

If conservatives want us to believe Fox News isn't their soap box, why do they defend it so vehemently?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see these numbers compared to "The Daily Show" viewership numbers.

Cylinsier said...

Not easy to find unfortunately. I found a few sources that say he pulls in around 2 million, but nothing more recent than late 2008. I would bet that his viewership is up slightly since then, especially with lots of high profile guests (Cramer, Biden) and some free advertising from Hannity on Fox.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia tells me that The Daily Show "generally has 1.45 to 1.6 million viewers nightly, a high figure for cable television."

Anonymous said...

Towards the end, you need to change "few people get passed 80" to "few people get past 80". Such an elementary mistake mars an otherwise informative and seemingly accurate discussion. However, all of is moot anyway, as viewership totals speak nothing of accuracy. I know you tried to establish this early on, but clearly the point was not made strong enough, as your very first responder goes right back to saying, "No, Fox News is the most popular", as if that matters. The only thing Fox News being top dog proves (assuming for the sake of argument that they are) is that more people value being told what they want to hear, as opposed to being told factual information if said information is going to conflict with their already held beliefs. People don't want to be informed; they want to be confirmed. They don't want to be aware; they want to be right. And that being said, number one or not, it's really no surprise at all Fox News does as well as they do.

Cylinsier said...

Nobody spells anything right on the internet. Still, I fixed it.

You are very right; people watch cable "news" to hear what they want to hear, not to learn.

Wesley said...

And of course, in this elliptical fest, you are all above listening to only those things that confirm your beliefs. Liberal claims that the information on Fox News is non-factual some, part, or all of the time is never substantiated. You just lay it out there, impugning the entire network because God forbid they are the only television media that is not lock step with the current administration. Rather than challenge facts or point to examples of non-facts. And at the same time you get your facts from Comedian John Stewart and Sports Doofus Keith Olbermann. I have a news flash for you, John Stewart is not a journalist and Olberdork is a sportscaster. Stewart is a freakin comedian and anonymous apparently can’t make that distinction. I enjoy the daily Show immensely but you embarrass yourself anon by trying to compare Stewart’s ratings. It’s mock news. Do you watch the Muppets chef for cooking ideas? You always have Chris Mathews with his pristine objectivity and the thrill running up his leg.

And so much for your objectivity E. You slam Neilson and then freely admit your company competes with them. I think Neilson’s reputation is long and distinguished (insert Johnson joke here) and while your company may be superior or as good, I do not think that in the public arena anyone questions the veracity of Neilson’s ratings. You are a master at picking the white out of chickenshit E. What is the unduplicated reach of all the other Cable outlets? It’s a wash dude. It’s all relative.

The Daily Show has 1.4 million viewers (and has dropped 10% annually)…of course we will never know if some of those viewers were duplicated or people whose channel changer has broken on Comedy Central when they laughed milk through their nose onto the channel changer. Or maybe they are just duplicated people or duplicitous or people with a triplicated reach. O’reilly re-run at 11:00pm beats him at 1.5+ million viewers.

But this cable news wiener comparison could go on forever. While you are busy calling Fox viewers names and impugning their intelligence, maybe you should check current events…as Hudson would say, you are getting your asses kicked and its not because these people are stupid drones going to a place where they can hear what they want to hear. They hunger for truth that the State run stenographer media is not giving them. This liberal anger against Fox and talk radio stems from the resentment that the left no longer has a monopoly.

In the end, you come off like typical elitist liberals, condescending to anyone who does not share your far left wing beliefs.

Cylinsier said...

Semi-related to this post:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_ts988

"For the second time in just over a week, Fox News is coming under fire for misusing old news footage. The latest flap is leading some people to charge that the cable news network is intentionally misleading its audience, while Fox claims a "production error." "

So much for professionalism!

Wesley said...

Like I said, white out of chickenshit brigade. The facts of the story did not change. It was sloppy production and not even in prime time. Fox will still kick ass again tonight. They probably have legions of fact checkers out there to try and find errors like this...and this is the best they could come up with? Use of some file footage?

Anonymous said...

Why do you care if Fox News kicks ass tonight? Do you work for them or something? You seem a little obsessed.

Ellipses said...

"I have a news flash for you, John Stewart is not a journalist and Olberdork is a sportscaster. Stewart is a freakin comedian and anonymous apparently can’t make that distinction. I enjoy the daily Show immensely but you embarrass yourself anon by trying to compare Stewart’s ratings. It’s mock news. Do you watch the Muppets chef for cooking ideas? You always have Chris Mathews with his pristine objectivity and the thrill running up his leg."

Everything you said about the daily show, keith olberman, and the muppets could just as easily be said about Faux News. Seriously. Is Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck a journalist? Do the "real news" shows that come on intermittent to the Op-Ed shows NOT use ideas ginned up by the editorial board of fox news?

"And so much for your objectivity E. You slam Neilson and then freely admit your company competes with them. "

I exercised full disclosure. My company effectively sells against Nielson on the basis that their data is a) flawed and b) shallow.

"I do not think that in the public arena anyone questions the veracity of Neilson’s ratings. "

But within the industry (television/advertising) there is systemic skepticism over Nielson's methodology. Even stations that use Nielson know it's BS but they don't change because they'd have to tell clients about the BS data they used to sell to them in the past.

"O’reilly re-run at 11:00pm beats him at 1.5+ million viewers."

Who wins at 7pm... you know, when normal people watch the daily show? :-)

"as Hudson would say, you are getting your asses kicked and its not because these people are stupid drones going to a place where they can hear what they want to hear."

Please refer back to the special olympics comparison. I don't watch cable news. I watch clips on the internet when the CLIP is newsworthy, but I do not watch any cable news at home on my TV. Neither do the vast, VAST majority of the public.

"They hunger for truth that the State run stenographer media is not giving them."

Like death panels and terrorist fist jabs and that stuff? Sounds like they hunger for sensationalist eschatological bullshit. I bet the overlap between Fox News and the history channel's conspiracy theory programming is pretty high.

"In the end, you come off like typical elitist liberals"

At this point, I don't think I could come off as anything else. I would have to go "in character" to sound conservative.

Wesley said...

Earth to anonymous...do I really have to recap? No offense anon, but the name of Cy's post is the Fox News Delusion etc. Everything that follows are posts from everyone inside this closed loop of incestuous thought. I am the lone voice presenting the counterpoint to the original post. That counterpoint is that it's not a delusion, Fox rules.......that and... I am obsessed. Gotta cut this short as Glenn Beck is starting. Yippee!

Ellipses said...

Ooooh! Is he wearing pink and talking nonsense?

Yeah?

Shit, I saw that one already.

Wesley said...

"Everything you said about the daily show, keith olberman, and the muppets could just as easily be said about ..........................fox news?"

Stewart is on Comedy Central and does not say it is anything other than mock news. Olbermann is at the bottom of the heap because of his mean spirited invective. I have no problem with him being a sportscaster just like I don't care that Hannity is a carpenter. I listen and I hear the logic and just like the majority of Americans I vote with my channel changer.

"but they don't change because they'd have to tell clients about the BS data they used to sell to them in the past."

According to who? Sounds like sour grapes.

Do normal people watch Stewart at 7pm? Anyway that time slot would be Shep Smith by about twice as many viewers. But of course that's with the BS Nielson system.

Whether or not you watch cable news is irrelevant and begs the question why are you commenting on it if you really don't know? So you freely admit that you base your opinions on clips that someone else has elected to parse for you?

susana said...

I no longer watch news on TV ..at all... I can't stand the commercials. But if I did, I would BBC. Anyway, this was a great post.. the facts and stats were well backed up and researched (and commercial free)...unlike the Beck/hannity/oreilly/ videosclip that daily find there way into my google reader. The last time I turned on my TV was for the world series...I guess that would've been a FOX channel.

rainonn said...

"I enjoy the daily Show immensely but you embarrass yourself anon by trying to compare Stewart’s ratings. It’s mock news."

He's not in the wrong to compare most of these shows (if they're not in the designated news hours) with the Daily Show. I doubt you can make a compelling argument of how Hannity's opinions are more valid than Stewart's jokes.

Wesley said...

Last time I checked, Stewart was not on against the Hannity time slot but I know it varies. Stewart seems to be on against O'reilly when he reruns at 11pm. At least he us on in the time slot in the next week or so.

Feel free to compare away. His ass is still getting kicked in ratings no matter which time slot you pick. If you want to get your news from a mock TV news show then please feel free.

Its not about valid opinions verses valid jokes. You are comparing apples and chian saws. But I fear I have already wasted too much time on you trying to explain.

Wesley said...

CABLE NEWS RACE
NOV. 19, 2009

FOXNEWS O'REILLY/PALIN 4,120,000
FOXNEWS HANNITY 2,871,000
FOXNEWS BECK 2,730,000
FOXNEWS BAIER 2,359,000
FOXNEWS GRETA 2,113,000
FOXNEWS SHEP 2,078,000
MSNBC OLBERMANN 1,188,000
CNNHN GRACE 1,018,000
CNN KING 980,000
MSNBC MADDOW 877,000
MSNBC HARDBALL 597,000
CNN COOPER 585,000

Anonymous said...

People who give a shit: 0