An Analogy: Network News as the Favorite Team
Everybody loves their favorite sports team. New England Patriots fans are wild about Tom Brady and the Pats. Canadians love their hockey teams. Most Southern Californians love either the Lakers, the USC Trojans or the UCLA Bruins or some combination thereof. People are absolutely passionate about their sports teams. They’ll wear clothing to support them, scream at the TV when they get scored on, attend watch parties with like-minded fans, and travel far and wide to catch a game in person. They also follow their favorite players with incredible fervor and research.
I’m going to pose an analogy. The network news channels watched by older generations are almost like teams, with familiar players that people feel comfortable watching. They also trumpet familiar themes, positions and issues that their watchers align with. People know how the offense works and how the defense plays. They’re familiar with the hosts’ argumentative style and approach.
Geraldo Rivera is a certain way on camera. Some people like where he’s coming from. Chris Matthews has followers, as does Rachel Maddow. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have their fans. The cable news networks are where the bulk of the viewers huddle, Fox and CNN being the front runners. Older demographics watch network news (ABC, CBS, NBC) – the channels they grew up with and trust.
If we look at the ratings (the number of viewers watching a program on a given night – quantified as a ratings number devised by TVNewser), we see a close 50/50 split in viewership along conservative/liberal lines. It’s similar to the electorate’s split between Republicans and Democrats.
Here are the cable news ratings from Adweek TVNewser for a Monday night in February, 2018:
As you can see, the channel that’s considered very conservative or Republican, Fox News Channel (FNC), has a fairly big lead in most time slots. MSNBC, which is considered very liberal or Democratic, is the yang to Fox’s yin. CNN is considered liberal/Democratic. HLN is a spin-off from CNN and is owned by the same parent company. While Fox appears to lead the numbers game, generally most news watchers are watching liberal or Democratic presentations of the news. None of this, of course, considers the way many of us get our news – the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email from friends. The broadcast and cable concerns have audiences on the Internet, as well, with, print, audio (podcast) and video. They just don’t have the kind of dominance they have on the old-fashioned TV set.
Broadcast network news is a different animal. Traditionally, the medium has not been so heavy handed with commentary and opinion, although that’s changing. What’s worked for the cable channels is division and argument on camera. This could be an outgrowth of the Jerry Springer trend that happened in the 1990’s on daytime TV. Springer was known for getting fiercely combative guests onto his show and letting them have at it. He was a provocateur of sorts. Take a spin through YouTube and see some of that funny stuff.
The broadcast networks, however, rely more on straight reporting and less on guest-guest or anchor-guest arguments. It’s a sober spin through the news of the day.
Here are the ratings numbers for network news:
For whatever reason, Adweek (the originator of these numbers) has different metrics . They’re going by actual viewers in the case of the broadcast networks, but they have ratings numbers for the cable networks.
You’ll see Adweek focuses on the 24-54 year old demographic. Why? Advertising, of course.
People in that age range have the most interest in news and the most money to spend on the kinds of things advertised on news shows. The viewership is both young and impressionable (to branding efforts – think cars and insurance), and old and making decisions about foods and healthcare. That’s the sweet spot. Adweek knows this. They’re the pros. It’s their business to advise advertisers.
Look at those broadcast numbers again. What stands out? The 25-54 demo is pretty small compared to the overall numbers. Do you think the rest is people under 25? Doubtful! The rest of broadcast news viewers are over 54. They grew up watching those networks and didn’t take to cable. Or maybe they do both.
In any event the 55+ crowd is the perfect audience for all those pharma ads we talked about. These people are coming up against cancer, acid reflux, impotence, heart disease and all that. They’re highly likely to have a conversation with their doctor about Humira.
Exercise: Ask 4 people – parents or older – what their favorite news network is and why they watch it. Think CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS here. I don’t think many are going to say RT (Russia Today). You’ll probably see a split which looks something like this:
The conservatives will be watching the left column, and the liberals will be watching the right. This doesn’t look “fair and balanced” at a glance, but a large portion – maybe 40% of the viewers are watching Fox News, so there’s definitely a split that reflects the political electorate in this country.
Now, go to Google Trends and pick a topic at the top of the list that interests you. Google Trends shows you the topics that people are searching in the news and on the web in any given day. You can do the same by looking at Twitter trends. Beware, there are lots of stupid things going on in these trend feeds. Be prepared for a heavy dose of Kardashians and other filth. If you go to the menu on the left, you can sort by trending searches.
Now email a conservative friend or family member about that particular topic, asking them for their thoughts. Do the same with a liberal friend or family member. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a controversial topic, but it should be exposed enough to have reached most of the country via headlines “above the fold.”
Bring in your findings, and we’ll discuss. Hopefully, we’ll get some fun stuff back. I’m guessing we’ll get some humor, rage, insights and quirkiness.