Ponders its ratings, that is: In this morning’s New York Times, Bill Carter does a full news report on MSNBC’s somewhat low-ish ratings.
Two important points should be made at this juncture:
First, ratings aren’t a measure of quality. A news channel could broadcast high-quality shows and get extremely low ratings.
Second, advertising revenue isn’t a measure of quality either! For reasons which go unexplained, Carter concentrates, almost exclusively, on “the key news demographic group”—on “viewers in the audience component that most matters to MSNBC’s advertisers, viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.”
It’s almost obscene that Carter does that. The substantial majority of cable news viewers do not belong in that age group. That’s the group the money folk care about. But that isn’t the bulk of the cable news audience.
Ratings aren’t a measure of quality. That said, it’s worth wondering why MSNBC seems to be doing poorly in the ratings. Carter discusses the numbers for several specific shows, including Maddow and Morning Joe. These passages represent his broadest overview:
CARTER (10/13/14): MSNBC’s other numbers are no prettier. Over all in prime time, MSNBC, which for years had squashed CNN head-to-head on weeknights, has recently dropped consistently behind that network. The falloff over the last five years is stark. In the first quarter of 2009, MSNBC averaged 392,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic for its weeknight lineup. In the third quarter of this year, the number was down to 125,000.Mike Rowe! Routinely, we’re amazed by the thought that many people must find him appealing, attractive, perhaps authentic. This constitutes an important political lesson:
Some of the losses at MSNBC reflect a drift away from cable news channels in general, as Mr. Griffin noted. Over the last five years, Fox News and CNN are both down 13 percent in total audience in prime time; MSNBC is down 21 percent. Fox has little to worry about because its numbers so dwarf the others. CNN has responded with a new strategy that mixes its traditional hard news approach with a regular lineup of pre-produced original series. It had a major success last week with the latest of them, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” with Mike Rowe.
A person (or issue) may seem different to many voters than he (or it) does to you!
Carter says that Fox’s ratings “dwarf” those of CNN and MSNBC. Below, we’ll show you the approximate size of the gap in prime time.
First, though, consider what happened when Carter asked an anonymous expert to opine about MSNBC’s ratings. It’s hard to believe that a major newspaper would put this piddle in print:
CARTER: One longtime news executive who has worked for both network and cable news organizations said the problem with “Morning Joe” was partly a broader issue with MSNBC. “‘Morning Joe’ has been hurt because no one is tuning in to watch the channel now; they go right by,” he said. “The show took its eye off the ball, but you can’t discount the fact that nobody is watching the channel.”If we’re reading that correctly, Morning Joe’s ratings are being hurt because no one is tuning in! This expert’s analysis of Maddow’s appeal, or lack of same, isn’t a whole lot better.
The executive, who asked not to be identified because of potential future business with MSNBC, said Ms. Maddow remains a draw, but her format has grown tired. “In terms of Rachel, everybody knows every night what she’s going to say,” he said. “The network just doesn’t surprise you.”
Ratings don’t measure quality. On the other hand, they measure the number of voters a news channel can inform and perhaps even influence.
On Wednesday night, October 8, these were the total numbers for some competing prime-time shows on Fox and MSNBC:
Total viewers, 8 and 11 PM Eastern broadcastsThat gap might not matter much if the work was real good at the liberal channel. In many ways, we’d say it isn’t. Your results may differ, of course.
Bill O’Reilly: 4.335 million
Chris Hayes: 0.818 million
Total viewers, 9 PM and 12 midnight broadcasts
Megyn Kelly: 3.814 million
Rachel Maddow: 1.051 million
Final question: how old are the people who watch cable news? In comment threads, we often see members of our own tribe laughing about the advanced age of Fox News viewers. In fact, all three cable news channels attract an old coot-heavy crowd:
CARTER: The median age of the MSNBC viewer has also ticked upward. Five years ago it was 58; now it is 61. CNN has edged down a bit, from 62 five years ago to 59. Fox News has aged from 65 to 68.Nothing can make the kids tune in! It seems to us that MSNBC panders hard in the quest for young viewers.
Advertisers love the kids. The kids don’t love the news.
People may seem different to others: People may seem different to other voters than they seem to you. We learned that lesson in July 1987, when the previously unknown Oliver North testified before a joint congressional committee on national TV.
We thought his performance was utterly clownish. A few days later, the national polling came out!