The cable news ratings for the third quarter of 2010 were released today, and Fox News is showing signs of decline as their viewership has decreased by 21%, and their top shows all posted double digit losses, while MSNBC’s shows grew and the network attracted more younger viewers.
Fox News is still dominating the cable news ratings. The network has the top 11 programs in cable news, but there are ominous signs that the empire is starting to crack. Compared to the third quarter of 2009, Fox has lost 21% of their total viewers, and 26% of their younger viewers. The biggest loser on the network was Bill O’Reilly who saw his program The O’Reilly Factor lose 12% of its total viewers and 21% of its young viewers. Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bret Baier, and Greta Van Susteren rounded out the top five cable news shows, and they each posted double digit declines.
Fox News is now averaging 1.831 million prime time viewers a day, and only 443,000 viewers age 25-54. The problem for Fox News is even more acute because second place MSNBC is actually growing. While Glenn Beck suffered double digit losses at 5PM, Chris Matthews posted modest gains of 1% overall and 8% in the demo. While Bret Baier declined, Ed Schultz has seen his viewership skyrocket at 6 PM. The Ed Show is up 24% over last year in total viewers and 8% in the demo. Keith Olbermann’s Countdown was down over last year by 6% in total viewers and 19% in the demo, but Olbermann’s was the only cable news show to gain audience since the second quarter. Rachel Maddow gained 6% in total views, but lost 1% with the demo.
MSNBC has a total prime time audience of 687,000 which is a bit more than a third of Fox News’ total, but they have more than half of FNC demo (age 25-54) audience, with 229,000 younger viewers. I don’t think the summer blues is an answer for the loss of viewership over at Fox. If it was seasonal then why did MSNBC’s viewership increase? The answer I think is rooted in Fox’s shift to the far right. As FNC has become the Tea Party news network, and engaged in straight GOP propaganda, moderate and liberal Republicans along with conservative Democrats, and Independents fled.
Some of these people have probably gone over to MSNBC, which now looks flat out moderate compared to the programming on Fox News, and MSNBC overall is far from moderate. The shrinkage of the Fox News viewership mirrors the shrinking of the Republican Party. As the tilt of FNC’s programming becomes more niche based, fewer viewers will watch. Bill O’Reilly’s show has become one of the more moderate on Fox News, and the lack of teabagger enthusiasm is a likely explanation for Bill-O’s drop. It is fascinating that in a year when Republicans are so excited about the midterm elections, Fox’s viewership would decline so drastically.
This could mean that the generic polling about voter enthusiasm and the media narrative that goes with it is off base. One would suspect that in anticipation of the midterms, more conservative viewers would be tuning into FNC. If the narrative is correct, MSNBC should be declining not gaining, but the looming long term threat to Fox is their inability to attract younger viewers, which can be directly attributed to younger skewing programs like The Daily Show that discredit FNC’s brand of “news reporting”, on a regular basis, and help viewers approach the news with a more critical eye. Fox is still the giant of cable news, but they are an aging behemoth staring down the barrel of a steep decline.