Cable News Shrinking?

by: Matt Stoller

Thu May 01, 2008 at 09:58


MSNBC's ratings momentum continued in April, as the network finished the month as the only cable news net to show a viewership increase over last year (342,000 vs. 333,000, M-Su Total Day). MSNBC also showed the most growth in weekday primetime, up 9% in the key Adults 25-54 demo (253,000 vs. 232,000), while CNN dropped 9% and Fox News Channel plunged 14%.

So Fox dropped 14% in viewership from April, 2007 to April, 2008?  And MSNBC, the top network, grew by 9%?  That says something good about MSNBC, but it's actually suggestive of trends that bode very ill for cable news.  This is the most energized electorate in forty years, with record donations and volunteering.  Dailykos has doubled in traffic, and the blogs are much less significant as a total piece of the news pie than we were during the last cycle, what with the growth of facebook and new communities.  Even Instapundit is up around 20% from a year ago.

Am I reading something wrong here?  Or is cable news strongly losing share of the overall political news space?  

Matt Stoller :: Cable News Shrinking?

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It's because the cables missed the post-partisan wave (4.00 / 1)
Just kidding.

But seriously,  their shrill, confusing, spitting belligerence is actually driving people away, people who first came to them to for perspective. There's no respite.

This cycle, it's not just interest that's up. Anxiety is too. So people, I think, are looking as much for a little relief as they are stimulation. But they still want things sorted out, so they are reading the blogs, which may be contentious, but at least they are not loud in their ears.

yes (0.00 / 0)
This is almost certainly true. And ironic.  Pre-existing media almost always lose share when new media are added to the system.  While it was once possible for a person to increase their media use (say when film was invented, they could watch some films and read as much they did before) it has long since become a zero-sum game.  It's ironic because it was the expassion of cable to dozens/hundreds of channels which led to a consistent ratings slide for ABC/NBC/CBS. Now it's the ever-expanding Web which will cost cable some of it's share.

The big media is coming on line (4.00 / 1)
Look at all the trad media blogs out there -- not only their number, but their quality. You can't watch cable TV at work, but you can follow the same exact stories on First Read, Politico, The Page, and whatever it is CNN and Fox have got up there. (Is ABC's Note still up?) And once you've done that, and caught some drive-time radio on the way home, why sit and watch the same old stuff when you've already got your fill of political news?

It is also quality.... (4.00 / 2)
My wife and I once played a bit of a game where we watched TV news, both network and cable, and tried to figure out when they actually told you or explained, well, anything.

The vast majority of the coverage leaves you less informed but more stressed out - and that is by design. They are there to play on your emotions and even the most important policy issues get played out as a "one side says X, the other says Y - disaster is looming". We quit watching.

Most people really are not stupid and as more have access to a media that can actually inform and entertain, a lot of them are going to choose that path.

The traditional media is broken. People want something that actually serves their needs, not Robert Murdoch's.  

Sounds eerily like our healthcare (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Not particularly relevant... (0.00 / 0)
but I was upset when XM dropped MSNBC from their line-up a couple of years ago just as the presidential election was beginning to heat up.  Lately they've been simulcasting Rachel Maddow and David Gregory's show at 6pm on Air America, and David Shuster has been sitting in for Ed Schultz.  It would be nice to see XM drop Fox and pick up MSNBC.

Fighting back (0.00 / 0)
However ineffective it is, I finally decided to create a bumper sticker to blow off steam about the phenomenon that is 21st century television journalism:

Switched back to local news (4.00 / 2)
Until recently, I hadn't watched the local affiliate network news for years.  It had gotten so bad, I couldn't stand it.  But now, the cable news networks are just as awful, if not worse.  Also, it's pretty strange when they decide to cut over to some house fire or car accident in Missouri (or somewhere) and you're sitting on the east coast.  The weird attempt to be everything to everyone is just ineffective and disconcerting.  I'm sick and tired of hearing what the same people think, over and over again.  Frankly, I don't really care what most of them think anymore.  Then they spend inordinate amounts of time promoting their own shows and displaying these graphics with annoying music blasts.  It's just become downright offensive.

So lately, I watch a couple of shows on the cable news, and I watch a little bit of the local news.  I have found that the local news shows, corny as they can be, are better than the cable news coverage.  What a shocker.

C-SPAN has pretty much gone to crap, Comcast pulled C-SPAN2 from the basic cable subscriber, and it's even getting tough to find decent news online nowadays.  I've been going to new places online lately to search for what's relevant.  There's a lot of good stuff out there, but it's hard to find.  What a mess.

Anyway, about the descent of Fox News, all I can say is "finally, people are coming to their senses."  Fox News is absolutely desperate, and it shows.  I've been watching this past week.  I certainly wish the democrats would, at the very least, make their Fox appearances very scarce.  I would like to be a fly on the wall this week in Fox exec offices when they examine the ratings spike they got from Obama and Clinton appearances, and next week when they salivate as they try to find new ways to get them on more often, while the candidates shun them (I hope!)  Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

Agree about C-Span (4.00 / 1)
Not sure why, but I can barely watch now unless there's a good hearing on.

[ Parent ]
On Tuesday, I was at the Salt Lake City airport... (0.00 / 0)
CNN's Wolf Blitzer was on one of those godawful, loud, can't-turn-it-off airport TVs. The topic was, of course, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and whether Obama had apologized enough. Gloria Borger and other name-brand pundits were collapsing on their fainting couches after Wright's appearance at the National Press Club. They were practically hysterical about him.

It was interesting to watch the behavior and body language of the people in the crowded airport gate area. Nobody was watching. I mean, nobody. There were at least 25 people in range of that TV and instead of watching, they had their faces buried in a book, newspaper or laptap. They were plugged into I-pods.  People seemed to go out of their way to turn away from Blitzer on the screen. Their body language was Go Away Wolf.  Shut up! Leave us alone.

Earlier that day, I was eating my free breakfast in La Quinta hotel dining area in Walla, Walla, WA, a pretty conservative part of the state. Because of the time differences, the president's press conference was being broadcast live. I can't stand to even listen to W's voice at this point and I was the only person in the room, so I turned the sound to mute. (It was another one of those damn can't-turn-it-off TVs). I had my lap-top with me and ended up doing a lot of e-mails, etc, so I stayed in the breakfast room for about an hour---longer than I usually would have. In the course of that hour, at least 20 people came in and had breakfast.  No one turned the volume up and no one even looked at the TV.

People are sick unto death of George W.  And I think a lot of us are sick unto death of cable news coverage.

One minor correction. (0.00 / 0)
MSNBC is not yet "the top network".  Despite its ongoing decline, Fox News retains that dubious honor.



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