Wednesday, July 28, 2004


While conservatives pretend that they are fearless challengers to the dominance of the liberal media, liberals wax indignant about what they see as Fox News' hegemony over American culture, even producing a documentary dedicated to examining "how media empires, led by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, have been running a 'race to the bottom' in television news": Outfoxed.
If conservatives exaggerate liberalism of the corporate media beyond recognition, liberals, too, are hyping the power of the Fox News Channel far more than its actual total viewership warrants. According to FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), Fox's total viewership is far smaller than CNN's, CNN makes much more money than Fox does, and Fox's best-rated show The O'Reilly Factor gets only one quarter to one fifth of the audience of CBS Evening News, "the least-watched broadcast network evening news show":
Reporting on the ratings rivalry between the Fox News Channel (FNC) and CNN is often misleading--and almost always over-hyped.

"Fox Tops CNN as Choice for Cable News," declared one typical headline (Chicago Tribune, 3/24/03). "Fox News Channel Continues to Crush CNN," reported Knight Ridder (Dallas Morning News, 2/3/04) in a column comparing the rivalry to a party primary: "Fox News Channel is winning the Nielsen caucuses." Last summer (8/17/03), the New York Times Magazine declared, looking back at the period of the Iraq invasion, "Fox was -- and still is -- trouncing CNN in the ratings."

After exposure to countless similar stories published since January 2002, when Fox was reported to have surpassed CNN in the Nielsen ratings, one might naturally conclude that Fox has more viewers than CNN.

But it's not true. On any given day, more people typically tune to CNN than to Fox.

So what are the media reports talking about? With few exceptions, stories about the media business report a single number for ratings (often expressed two different ways -- as "points" or "share"). This number is often presented as if it were the result of a popularity contest or a democratic vote. But it is actually the average number of viewers watching a station or a show in a typical minute, based on Nielsen Media Research's monitoring of thousands of households.

The average is arrived at by counting viewers every minute. Heavy viewers -- those who tune in to a station and linger there -- have a greater impact, as they can be counted multiple times as they watch throughout the day.

When an outlet reports that CNN is trailing Fox, they are almost invariably using this average tally, which Fox has been winning for the past two years. For the year 2003, Nielsen's average daily ratings show Fox beating CNN 1.02 million viewers to 665,000.

But there is another important number collected by Nielsen (though only made available to the firm's clients) that tells another story. This is the "cume," the cumulative total number of viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes during a given day. Unlike the average ratings number the media usually report, this number gives the same weight to the light viewer, who tunes in for a brief time, as it does to the heavy viewer.

How can CNN have more total viewers when Fox has such a commanding lead in average viewers? Conventional industry wisdom is that CNN viewers tune in briefly to catch up on news and headlines, while Fox viewers watch longer for the opinion and personality-driven programming. Because the smaller total number of Fox viewers are watching more hours, they show up in the ratings as a higher average number of viewers.

CNN regularly claims a cume about 20 percent higher than Fox's (Deseret Morning News, 1/12/04). For instance, in April 2003, during the height of the fighting in Iraq, CNN's cume was significantly higher than Fox's: 105 million viewers tuned into CNN compared to 86 million for Fox (Cablefax, 4/30/03). But in the same period, the ratings reported by most media outlets had Fox in the lead, with an average of 3.5 million viewers to CNN's 2.2 million.

Even among Fox's core audience of conservatives, CNN has an edge in total viewership. A study by the ad agency Carat USA (Hollywood Reporter, 8/13/03) found that 37 percent of viewers calling themselves "very conservative" watch CNN in the course of a week, while only 32 percent tune to Fox. . . .

. . . [I]n the race between these two for-profit ventures, the bottom line is the bottom line: From their capitalistic perspective, the channel that gets more ad revenue is winning the real ratings war. Earnings for the two channels are a contentious subject -- since neither network reports its revenues separate from its corporate parent, and each claims to earn more income than its rival. But many industry analysts say CNN still makes more money. Stock analyst Michael Gallant told the Chicago Tribune (11/28/03) that while Fox is growing faster, CNN is still earning about $200 million more per year than Fox (Television Week, 10/20/03).

Furthermore, CNN apparently continues to command higher ad rates, or CPM. CPM stands for "cost per thousand" (using the Roman numeral), the price a television outlet charges advertisers per thousand television households reached by a commercial. Though Fox began claiming to have reached CPM parity with CNN last summer, CNN chair Jim Walton insisted that CNN's rate was still 40 percent higher (Television Week, 7/14/03).

In interviews with Extra!, ad buyers for three different firms (all of whom declined to be named) confirmed that CNN continues to command a higher CPM, though their estimates of the gap in prices was less than half that quoted by Walton.

One of the reasons for CNN's lead in CPM, according to the buyers, is the advertiser preference for lighter viewers. Such viewers tend to come from the most desirable demographics -- younger, busier, more free-spending -- and because they're harder to reach with ads, the law of supply and demand drives their cost up.

One media buyer we interviewed analyzed the contrast between Fox and CNN in terms of programming and viewing habits, telling Extra!: "CNN is like news radio where people drop in for the news; Fox is like talk radio, where they stay longer for the opinion shows." . . .

But even in the limited sense of average hourly watchers, Fox is only No. 1 among 24-hour cable news channels. Fox, like CNN, now reaches about 4 of every 5 television households, so comparisons with broadcast news shows are increasingly valid. And among all television news sources, Fox's performance is nothing to brag about.

The O'Reilly Factor is the best-rated show on Fox, with about 2 million viewers a night (Daily Variety, 12/5/03). CBS Evening News, the least-watched broadcast network evening news show, routinely gets four or five times as big an audience, and that's seen as a ratings disaster. Fox's flagship news show, Special Report with Brit Hume, gets a million viewers on a good night -- a few thousand more than the local newscast of New York City's WNBC (Hollywood Reporter, 10/1/03; Nielsen). (emphasis added, Steve Rendall, "The Ratings Mirage: Why Fox Has Higher Ratings -- When CNN Has More Viewers," Extra! April 2004)
Liberals who are media junkies are indeed being outfoxed, but not by the Fox News Channel, but by their own self-defeating hype.

Then again, the liberal hype is not so self-defeating after all. If the main problem of the broadcast media were Fox in particular, rather than corporate ownership and control in general, liberal voters wouldn't have to feel embarrassed about voting for John Kerry, "a strong supporter of the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996":
Kerry was a strong supporter of the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which by some accounts was the most lobbied piece of legislation in history. The result of these laws was a massive consolidation of media companies, particularly in the radio industry, where over 4,000 radio stations have been sold since 1996. Clear Channel alone went from 40 stations to approximately 1,200 stations. The legislation also gave away the digital spectrum to the broadcasting companies free of charge (rather than having it auctioned off). The spectrum is valued at about $70 billion. Keep in mind, this is the same John Kerry who likes to brag about how he boldly shafted the poor by supporting welfare reform. Apparently, giving a $70 billion Christmas gift for the telecom industry is a more laudable goal than providing temporary subsistence living for America's poor. (Justin Felux, "John Kerry: Media Darling," Dissident Voice, February 12, 2004)


charlie said...

While I appriciate the insight into the mass-media, I think youu miss the bigger picture. With regards to the movie "Outfoxed", you don't mention the persona behind Fox News, Rupert Murdoch. I find it interesting that you dance around the topic of who is the biggest news channel with out mentioning the owner. That is one of the biggest themes in the one very conservative and opinionated man controls so many media outlets. We should all worry if that one white man was far left. No one person should control such an important aspect of our so-called free society.

You also seem to miss the point that independence has been taken away from the media, the news and our publically reported lives. ALL major media outlets are FOR-PROFIT, and therefore create a inescapable conflict of interest - "sell the story, or tell the news?" Racing for profit, ratings and advertising sponsors leads to sensationalism. Large, for-profit media have become burdened by money (remember, in the market you are either growing or dying)

The fact that you focused on the ratings, and the arguement that CNN is bigger, shows that you haven't gotten the bigger picture - or the point of such films as "outfoxed".


Anonymous said...

Maybe you think of the Democratic Party as some giant with lots of money and power, stepping on underdog third party people. But it hasn't been easy here in Ohio for Democrats. I have seen Ohio Democrats do alot of work and then get defeated.

You know that the people in this group didn't just jump out for Kerry. The people in this group had supported Dean, Kucinich, Clark, maybe some for Ghepardt, Sharpton, Mosely-Braun, and even possibly Lieberman. Kerry won the support of the major labor unions and then one after another of the candidates as they left their candidacy. I was disappointed about how the media smeared my choice of candidate with the "Dean scream," resulting in a sudden drop in the polls. Prior to that, somebody whom I had noticed whom was pounding away with dozens of postings on Kerry in the Montgomery group had applied for subscription to Dem-Oh-Franklin. I told him he was welcome to subscribe, but to take it easy on his postings of Kerry. He got pissed off and didn't subscribe. To my surprise, Kerry took the lead in the next month.

But I think that Kerry is going to be cool. If Bush is going to drive wars and claim to be a "war president," then I think that it is appropriate that he is challenged by a veteran whom later became a protester against the war (although you may cite that as superficial). shows that Kerry is liberal. He has recently been shunned by bishops of the Catholic Church and has been going to a church of outcasts, of gays and lesbians.

So, almost all of the people of Dem-Oh-Franklin had another preference, but have resolved to support Kerry. They know that Kerry shall get the Dems (and progressive) more opportunity than the Republicans.

It hasn't been easy for Democrats in Ohio. JB, for example, I believe was in charge of the Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessy for commissioner campaign in 2002. She lost in that election. He mentioned that he had been in charge of a campaign for a candidate in Michigan and lost. All of the Ohio Democratic Party candidates on the 2002 ballot, except for a couple people, had lost the election.

The Democratic Party doesn't just staple a flyer on a post on the street corner like the Greens and Socialists do. A few months before an election, they go out early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, using a map, walk up and down the streets putting flyers about the candidates at people's doors. They do this every week for about six weeks before each election. And then appearing at public events during the week and up late in the evenings preparing materials for the election. The intellects at osu may scoff at the Dems and Repubs for their power, but it isn't that easy. I doubt if the third parties have done any of that. I met several of the Democratic Party candidates in 2002. Several of the candidates actually walked up and down the streets themselves - every weekend - before that election, and then lost. In the next election, they tried again, going through the same thing.
And now Faith Dickerhoof, the communications director of the Ohio Democratic Party of that election, is now a campaign coordinator in Kerry's campaign. (She was on his staff at the beginning of the campaign, at the onset of the primaries.)

Democrats have been elected in local Columbus elections because the people of Columbus are proud of their city. The beautiful improvements are from their tax money.

To summarize this, the Democrats in this group have seen Bush steal the election in 2000, seen the Republicans take the elections nationally and locally in 2002 using war as a diversion to their failing economics, have experienced severe losses in elections over the years in Ohio; All of the past four years until the past six months, have seen all of the media biased towards Bush and the Republican Party.

If Kerry gets elected, the Democrats are where we were fourteen years ago with a record budget deficit. There is no budget for this country because Bush dumped it. The media had a strong bias toward Bush & the Republicans the past three years, and maybe finally our way.

On Nader. Has he done anything to change the election system other than make himself a candidate? Has he done anything to change the electoral college system or get a run-off election system, etc? Has he ever been elected to a political office? He has been saying the Democrats don't want competition from third parties, but when he didn't get candidacy in the Green Party, became candidate as an Independent. He has nobody challenging him there. Nader announced his candidacy just a few weeks after the Democratic Party primaries had shown Kerry as its future candidate. Kerry had competed against eight other candidates. Nader has no other candidates against him in a party.

Supposing Nader was president, he would have to have the cooperation and support of congressmen to have success. In some instances, an individual can get the support of other parties. Any evidence that Nader can do that? Nader's support from the Republicans is to help them win the election.

I would try to be fair to the Greens with their former candidate, that the Dems were using Nader for a scapegoat in allowing such a close election. I don't believe the 530 vote lead that Bush had forced settlement on was the actual vote. The secretary of state of Florida had purged thousands of Democratic voters from the list prior to the election, provided a confusing ballot in Democratic counties of Florida taking thousands of votes from Gore. No need to pick on Nader for the 2000 election. But he hasn't been too cool in this election.

You brought up the issue, yourself, with your recent posting about media and bias, titled "Outfoxed" You said, if conservatives exaggerate liberalism of the corporate media beyond recognition, liberals, too, are hyping the power of the Fox News Channel far more than its actual total viewership warrants." If you had seen Fahrenheit or read after the 2000 election, Fox News hastily announced that Bush had won when the election was still undecided, creating confusion in the other networks. The media has sustained a cowardly bias towards Bush over the years, because of their sponsors and network owners.

With the media bias favoring Bush and the Republican Party over the years, I do not see why Dem-Oh-Franklin should allow persons to speak their favor of the Republican Party. The Republican Party has had their say in the media, while the liberals have not. There is no reason that we should provide a forum for the Republicans here when the Dems and liberals could not speak in the media (until the past few months.)

I would like allow third party people their say about their party here, but not to oppose the Dems in this election. The discussion in many of your posts, "Political Closet of the Democratic Party," "Outfoxed," and another, almost appear to be from a Republican standpoint, not from a third party.

If you are a special interest group person - the Israel/Palestinian cause - you should at least remember, few if any people here supported Lieberman as candidate (a Jewish special interest person whom wanted to promote military in Israel) and he is no longer a candidate. If it bothers your pride that you didn't get the candidate that you wanted, many others didn't either. We have agonized many losses in politics. But we are going to try our best to win this one. In the months ahead, if you take sides with us, consider this an opportunity to observe the political organization of the Democratic Party and grassroots politics.


Anonymous said...


I posted annonomously because I didn't have time to set up a name for this blogger, password etc.

I am Don Nelson, moderator of Dem-Oh-Franklin