Reuters’ Jack Shafer argues that Cable News audience has peaked. That would potentially be bad news for FNC and its quest to be taken seriously as a viable alternative to ABC, NBC, and CBS. If you can’t match the ratings of (or beat) one of the big three…you’re not competitive. I don’t know if cable news audiences have peaked or not as Shafer argues. It may be that audiences have peaked for the format of cable news we currently have (heavy on politics and political news and increasing use of POV) but I wouldn’t shut the door completely on no more upside just yet.
The first sign of a peak in cable news appeared in March 2011, when the Pew Research Center released a study that proclaimed, “Though many will remember 2010 as a hard year for CNN, in reality, most cable news channels suffered audience losses.” The able chartists at Pew drew a sad graph of cable news. Combined median viewership for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC during prime time had receded 16 percent, to 3.2 million, that year. Mean viewership had also dropped 13 percent, to 3.3 million, making it the largest year-to-year drop for cable news since Pew started analyzing the numbers in 1997. It also marked the first drop in the median audience since 2006.
The bad news continued through 2011, as cable news viewership remained nearly flat. This was fairly astonishing considering all the breaking news from that year – the Arab Spring, Japan’s tsunami, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Libyan civil war and the European economic crisis – not to mention the bustle of the presidential campaign.
Shafer goes on to extrapolate what this peakage could mean…
But as cable news has peaked, so too has Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes. He’ll continue to call the plays at his channel, but unless he comes up with something startlingly new, he won’t be able to cause any greater public ruckus with his shows. And if Ailes and Fox News have peaked, what of Media Matters for America, David Brock’s advocacy group? Media Matters polices Fox News with such dedication that it’s become the network’s finest publicist, pushing Fox News stories to liberal audiences who would otherwise never be aware of them. Oh, Media Matters will continue to ding Fox News. But if the Fox News audience isn’t growing, Media Matters can’t expect its followers to be more scandalized about Fox News than they already are.
Bill O’Reilly? Peaked. Chris Matthews? Peaked. Anderson Cooper? Peaked. Democratic Party outrage over what Fox News said about the president? Peaked. Maddow, Hannity, O’Donnell, Sharpton? Peaked, peaked, peaked, peaked.