Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 12, 2010

AN OLD, WHITE, TECH-AVERSE AUDIENCE.... A couple of weeks ago, data from Nielsen Media Research showed that Fox News' audience isn't especially diverse. While 20.7% of CNN's viewers are black, and MSNBC's numbers are similar, just 1.38% of Fox News' audience is black.

As it turns out, the Republican network's audience, while obviously larger and whiter than its rivals, is also much older.

In a survey released by analyst Steve Sternberg, Fox News has the oldest audience among fully distributed cable networks. The network's average viewer last season was 65 years old, according to Nielsen. Heck, it's viewers are even older than viewers of Hallmark Channel, Military Channel and Golf Channel.

Perhaps the reason viewers tend to leave Fox News on all day racking up hours of big Nielsen numbers is they can't actually change the channel?

(Ah, Fox News, you know we only kid you because you sort of set yourself up for it).

For comparison purposes, CNN's average audience is two years younger, and MSNBC's is six years younger.

On a related note, as impressive as Fox News' television ratings are, this doesn't translate to much of an online presence.

On the tube, Fox's ratings are so dominant that CNN is turning to prostitution-tarred former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to revive its prime-time lineup. In fact, Fox host Bill O'Reilly recently suggested that rival news nets are all but irrelevant, saying, "If you want to know what's really happening in America, you have to come here." But with millions of Americans turning to the Web for more of their news on a more frequent and immediate basis, can that assessment actually be true?

Foxnews.com averages around 12 million or 13 million monthly unique users, according to Nielsen Online, rarely approaching the 35 million to 40 million uniques that leaders Yahoo News, MSNBC and CNN regularly deliver in aggregate.

There are competing explanations for this -- no, smart guy, it's not because Fox News viewers are illiterate -- but perhaps the strongest argument is "the difficulty in recreating an online version of Fox's trademark shoutcasting model, with blustery partisans and rhetorical melodrama."

Regardless, as a long-term strategy, Fox News is going to have to adjust. An old, white, tech-averse audience is delivering strong ratings now, but it's not a recipe for sustained success.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

Average of 65? Why anybody would advertize there is beyond me.

Posted by: Vokoban on August 12, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

A simpler explanation is that CNN is basically worthless and has been sliding downhill for 5 years.
CNN has tried to become "Fox Lite" to no avail; They are starting to shed the commentators that helped to
make them a dominant player for Cable news.

Posted by: verberne on August 12, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

To reflect its demographic, I suggest FOX News change its name to CRT News.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on August 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

An old, white, tech-averse audience is delivering strong ratings now, but it's not a recipe for sustained success.

Oh, FOX News will adapt all right! I predict that, in twenty years, FOX News will have the look and feel of the inside of an Abercrombie & Fitch.

Posted by: chrenson on August 12, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Fox news viewers don't go online to foxnews.com, they go to Drudge. Plenty of shoutcasting there.

Posted by: TomB on August 12, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I tend to refer to FOX these days as "The Hospice Channel"---although "The Feral Coot Network" does come in as a surprising second....

Posted by: S. Waybright on August 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure how appropriate it is to play up the fact that Fox News viewers are 65 on average when CNN's viewers are 63 and MSNBC's are 59. Those are all in the same ballpark -- the old.

Posted by: Mike D on August 12, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Mike D: News is wasted on the young.

Posted by: chrenson on August 12, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

We can all hope that Faux News will sink beneath the waves as their audience dies off.

ALSO: @ S. Waybright: I'm going to be stealing both of those terms. I hope I remember to credit you, but if not, please forgive me.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on August 12, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Ditto, Mike D. All of their audiences are WAY out side the prime advertising demos.

On the other hand, they VOTE and they vote mean. Fox's real job is to motivate the right wing base. CNN's real job is to make money. Which one do you think is fulfilling its business model?

Fox News is the Washington Times of Cable.

Posted by: martin on August 12, 2010 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Do they count all the people who are forced to watch fox in car repair shops, doctors offices, and airports, etc.?

Posted by: CDW on August 12, 2010 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

From Skin the Fox, here's a list of Fox Sponsors:
Though I am surprised Pfizner's not on here (they market Sildenafil), the rest seem fairly well suited to the age and income Fox plays to:

Chain Stores:
• Target
• Walmart
• Office Depot
• Circuit City
• Burlington Coat Factory
• Lending Tree

Telecomms:
• AT & T
ATT: Bob Nersesian
• Earthlink, INC.
• CINGULAR WIRELESS
• Direct TV
DIRECT TV, INC.
• Hula Networks

Auto:
• BMW
• Dodge
• Lexus
• Lincoln-Mercury [Ford]
• Mercedes-Benz
• Infiniti
• Jeep | DAIMLER CHRYSLER

Travel:
• BOEING/WORLD HEADQUARTERS
• Celebrity Cruises
• CheapTickets.com
• Hyatt Gold
• Travelocity
• AMERICAN EXPRESS

Pharmaceutical:
• BAYER
THE BAYER GROUP
• BRISTOL-MEYERS
BRISTOL MEYERS HEADQUARTERS
• Splenda
c/o JOHNSON & JOHNSON

Investment/Insurance:
• Fidelity Investments
• Edward Jones Investments
EDWARD JONES
• Morgan Stanley
• Northwestern Mutual
• Progressive Insurance

• Napster.com (yes, Frank and Bing are on Napster)
• ADOBE
• CDW (previously known as Mac Warehouse)
• ASTRA ZENECA
• AVAYA
• BLACK & DECKER
• AMERIQUEST MORTGAGE
• Dannon
• Ditech.com
• Eloan.com
• Enova Oil

Posted by: Skip on August 12, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

"The network's average viewer last season was 65 years old, according to Nielsen."

I am forced to watch Fox at my gym-thankfully on mute. I have noticed every other commercial is for gold products, walking devices or male erection stimulants.

Posted by: RolloTomasi on August 12, 2010 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the reason viewers tend to leave Fox News on all day racking up hours of big Nielsen numbers is they can't actually change the channel?

When they leave it on in the dayroom, the remote is kept in the nurse's office so no one can change the channel, dammit!

Posted by: g on August 12, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps the reason viewers tend to leave Fox News on all day racking up hours of big Nielsen numbers is they can't actually change the channel?"

Steve, you may be closer to the truth than you think. My mother, a lifelong Democrat, now at the age of 84 and impaired by dementia, routinely loses her remote and then tells me the television only gets one channel. Sadly it's almost always Fox news.

It's also my experience that as she ages, she does not have the attention span to watch something more engaging. So it's Fox News, CNN, HLN (the missing white woman/child channel) and Nancy Grace with MSNBC occasionally thrown in there. However I don't know how much really sinks in other than she's obsessed with keeping the doors and windows closed and locked. In this heat it's been a challenge.

It would be interesting to do a brain chemistry experiment using the channels I've listed and an older audience. I bet you would get some pretty interesting findings.

I'm ambivalent about taking her to vote as you might imagine.

Posted by: lianne16 on August 12, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

If Fox wants to try, the could always begin the lead with the comments section followed by the article. Plenty of ranting and shouting going on. Not much light, however.

Posted by: Scott F. on August 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Average of 65? Why anybody would advertize there is beyond me."

Do they still make Carter's Liver Pills? Paul Harvey's advertisers could set up shop at Fox.

Posted by: Viceroy Matt on August 12, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Did anybody else notice that the 35-40M readers for the other 3 news sites are in aggregate? So if we assume an equal split, each site actually gets about the same number of unique readers as the Fox news website. Or am I reading that wrong?

In any case, while I read a lot of news online, I rarely go to any of the sites listed above. Most of my high-level daily news comes from Google. I wonder how many unique visits they get a month?

Posted by: Kris on August 12, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!

Posted by: Cazart on August 12, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Martin is right -- old people vote, and they vote no to all new taxes and to any type of social change. Even without Fox, these folks would be showing up to vote Republican in November. Fox knows exactly what it's doing by whipping up so much racial hysteria.

Posted by: SciMom on August 12, 2010 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

So maybe all the shouting on FNC is because their audience is losing its hearing?

Posted by: ninja3000 on August 12, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

An old, white, tech-averse audience is delivering strong ratings now, but it's not a recipe for sustained success.

That is not self-evident. The over-65 population is the fastest growing age cohort; people often become more conservative as they age; older people still buy things. I don't like Faux News, but I see no reason to take heart from any of your data.

Posted by: nightshift66 on August 12, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Do they count all the people who are forced to watch fox in car repair shops, doctors offices, and airports, etc.?

I'd add bars as well. I'm not sure why it is that so many retail establishments leave FoxNews on all day. I know whenever I'm in one I make a point of asking them to switch it to CNN or MSNBC because FoxNews is a republican propaganda channel. (No one even denies it.) But it cerainly explains FoxNews' high ratings, and the rationale of the bar/shop/office is that FoxNews is they leave it on because it's popular-- but it's a catch-22 because if you took away all of those left on public tv's their ratings would likely be a lot lower.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on August 12, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

When the "young/spry" channel boast an age average of 59, I'm not entirely convinced that ANY of the cable news channels has a lock on the young demographic.

If anything, I find this somewhat encouraging. The cable news channels have too many reasons to not give good, in-depth analysis of issues (exhibit 1: Fox), while the alternatives (online news sources) have a much easier time there. So, I'm glad that most folks with more than 20 good years left in them are NOT turning to the cable networks for news.

On the other hand, an alternate read is that those under their golden years just don't consume as much news of any sort.

In any case, for the comments above: yes, Fox news has a lucrative demographic for advertisers. The draw of the younger demographic is generally not how much money they have to spend, but how much money they have to spend over the next ten years; young audience advertising tends more towards brand awareness while old audience advertising tends more towards just getting the old guy to send some money your way today.

Posted by: Tom Dibble on August 12, 2010 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Older than anything else? I find it hard to believe that the average Fox viewer is older than the average viewer of Turner Classic Movie (TCM) channel.

Posted by: Anonymous At Work on August 12, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's just a matter of time before they die off, and then the country can catch up to the rest of the world.

Posted by: Yellow105 on August 12, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps the reason viewers tend to leave Fox News on all day racking up hours of big Nielsen numbers is they can't actually change the channel?"

Or fell asleep in their chairs.

Posted by: George Mardikes on August 12, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

You cannot compare FOX News ratings with other cable stations because, as Seseme Street used to say: "One of these things is not like the others..."

Fox News is not a news network in the tradition sense. It is the rallying point of a political movement. The other cable networks are just that -- media outlets. People who want to be part of the Tea Party/Conservative Movement soecifically go to Fox to find companionship with a likeminded audience and to get their marching orders and talking points so that they can do battle with any liberals they meet in the street. People tune in MSNBC to hear a take on the news that is generally compatible with their worldview but those networks do not perform anything like the organizing and sustaining role that FOX does with its audience, which is why FOX's ratings are better -- but that says nothing about the general disposition of the American public opinion, however much FOX tries to spin its ratings into an endorsement of "center right" politics. You would expect FOX's ratings to be better because of the unique role it plays as leader of a right wing political movement.

That is why I had said in the past: Liberals are consumers of their media. Conservatives are citizens of theirs.

Posted by: Ted Frier on August 12, 2010 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

"it's a catch-22 because if you took away all of those left on public tv's their ratings would likely be a lot lower."
Posted by: zoe kentucky on August 12, 2010 at 2:21 PM

My understanding is that Nielsen ratings (at least) measure only in-home audiences; this is from the wikipedia article "Nielsen ratings:"

"Another criticism of the Nielsen ratings system is its lack of a system for measuring television audiences in environments outside the home, such as college dormitories, transport terminals, bars, and other public places where television is frequently viewed, often by large numbers of people in a common setting."

It's entirely possible, though, that this info is completely obsolete; there are references to "2004" as if it were recent history, if not current events -- and it is Wikipedia...
Anyone know for sure how it now works?

Posted by: smartalek on August 13, 2010 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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