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January 29, 2014

Fox Doubles MSNBC's Ratings, Quadruples CNN's

CNN is faring badly.

umbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research show that Fox News is towering over the competition. Its total viewership surpassed CNN and MSNBC combined, with the gap increasing even further during prime time. Fox even surpassed its own record, coming up 6 percent in prime time viewers from this time last year. It’s great news for the cable network, which saw a slight decline in 2013 but now appears poised to regain that ground and more.

The big story, however, is CNN’s precipitous drop in viewership. While MSNBC slowly bled viewers between last January and now, CNN hemorrhaged an astonishing 29 percent of its total viewers. And its prime time numbers are utterly abysmal, with 41 percent of its audience jumping ship in the space of just 12 months.

CNN will probably take from their precipitous decline that people are stupid, and that's why they watch Fox and not CNN. (And why they watch MSNBC and not CNN.)

That's the wrong take. People are in fact largely pretty stupid, but, as regards CNN's ratings health, they're not stupid enough.

It is true that Fox news has a partisan Republican and ideological conservative tilt. I think that's excusable because Fox's raison d'etre is to serve as a counterbalance to the relentless, ubiquitous partisan Democrat and ideological progressive tilt of all the other media (except for upstarts, like The Blaze).

And CNN would be right to think that MSNBC's viewers are stupid and crude, demanding constant partisan outrage fixes and ideological validation, like monkeys habituated to a cocaine drip.

But CNN is very nearly as biased to the left as MSNBC. CNN just uses the old model of media bias, one of implausible deniability. The denial of leftwing bias isn't plausible, but they're going to deny it nevertheless.

CNN would like to position itself as the smart, fact-based, probing news alternative to more demanding news consumers.

But they don't actually do the work necessary to be that. They pantomime their positioning. They offer less hot partisan hype than MSNBC. But scratch just a millimeter deep into Nonpartisan Real News paintjob and you find CNN loaded with all the same bias as MSNBC. They just convey it more subtly.

There probably is an audience for a straight-news, no bias news network. As the market fragments into smaller pieces, different approaches will attract different cohorts and wind up being profitable.

But CNN will never be able to attract such an audience when it continues to be "MSNBC with 50% less overt conservative-bashing and 90% less poop talk."

If CNN wishes to survive, it has to create a unique brand for itself and appeal strongly to an audience (even if that audience is fated to be smaller than MSNBC's and Fox's).

Simply being MSNBC's Somewhat-Better-Behaved-Big-Brother is not sufficiently unique.

On the other hand, if they confessed that Fox has a pretty good point as far as implicit and explicit bias, and sought to eliminate that without taking the next step of adding in Fox's own implicit and explicit bias, they might have a product that people would actually like.

But they won't. Their bias is too important to them. People don't go into the news business to make profits or report, neutrally, on the news. They go into the news business specifically to change minds, and specifically they want to change the minds of conservatives and independents towards the progressive viewpoint.

That's the fun part of the job, the satisfying part. The part that makes up for the fact that most people in the news media don't make a great deal of money, and also, by the way, don't hire many minorities.

I just thought I'd mention that.

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posted by Ace at 02:22 PM

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