Skip to comments.Nightly News Feels Pinch of 24-Hour News (Feel the Pain of Fox News, Vermin!)
Posted on 04/13/2003 7:14:50 PM PDT by Timesink
ith the most televised war in history winding down, executives at TV news organizations are noticing one startling detail in how Americans are watching the coverage: viewers are increasingly tuning out the broadcast networks' evening newscasts.
The ratings for the nightly newscasts of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings have surged in past crises. But early in the the war in Iraq, they did not.
But in the first 16 days of the war with Iraq, the networks not only saw the gains of the first days vanish, they in fact suffered a drop-off from the average viewership during the preceding weeks of the television season. CBS and ABC together lost nearly two million viewers, or a combined 10 percent, during the period, according to Nielsen Media Research. Only NBC, which unlike the other networks has a cable news operation, recorded a slight increase.
The overall decline in the evening news programs' ratings, coming at the same time as the three cable news networks achieved gains of more than 300 percent, could be a watershed moment in how Americans get their news on television.
"Going back the 15 years that I have researched it," said Andrew Tyndall, founder of the Tyndall Report, which monitors network newscasts, "the networks always show an increase of about 10 percent in viewing during heavy news periods. This would be an unprecedented event."
Certainly, the cable networks are trying to cast it that way. This weekend, CNN, a unit of AOL Time Warner, included word of the drop in network newscast ratings in the crawl of "breaking news" headlines spooling across the bottom of its screen.
But executives at the broadcast networks urged caution before jumping to sweeping conclusions based on the evidence of a few weeks. The nature of the war in Iraq much of it fought during nighttime in the United States, more than half a day away from the start of the evening newscasts worked against the broadcast networks, they argued. And the technological advances in the coverage, which allowed for many more live shots of action at the front, provided another advantage to the cable networks, which could put them to use 24 hours a day.
Executives at ABC, a unit of Disney, dismissed the shrinking numbers as insignificant, if not completely irrelevant, saying slight declines over a small period of time cannot be interpreted as a trend. Indeed, viewing levels for the networks' newscasts, which totaled about 28 million people for the three networks, dwarfed the combined average of 7.3 million viewers attracted by the Fox News Channel, a unit of News Corporation, CNN and MSNBC, which is owned by Microsoft and General Electric, the parent of NBC.
ABC executives also noted that the network's other news programs, "Good Morning America" and "Nightline" added viewers, demonstrating that the overall appeal of the network's news division was not diminished.
At CBS, a unit of Viacom, where the declines were most significant, executives were a bit more willing to acknowledge that the drop-off was real. Not only did the "CBS Evening News" lose more than 15 percent of its viewers, but its morning news program, "The Early Show," was beaten in the ratings race last week by Fox News Channel's morning program, despite being available in 20 million more homes. CBS executives, however, argued that the development was likely unique to this war.
Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, said the Bush administration's new policy of placing reporters with the military units engaged in the fighting, was the most significant factor driving the decline. It introduced a new element of live, often visceral, coverage that had a profound impact on viewers, he said.
The decline in the number of people viewing the network newscasts was in stark contrast to what took place during the last sustained story of compelling national interest. "After 9-11, viewers looked to the network anchormen to help knit the fabric of the nation back together," Mr. Heyward said.
In contrast, he said, "This was a reporters' war, not an anchor war; this involved a series of very profound individual vignettes."
And while those carefully tracking news reports from Iraq found themselves drawn to the powerful images of developing battlefield action, Mr. Heyward said, for other viewers, especially some women, "the extraordinary and very upsetting imagery was simply too much."
Preliminary findings of research into viewing habits of the war that CBS commissioned showed that occasional viewers of the news still came to network newscasts in large numbers during the war, said David F. Poltrack, the executive vice president of research for the network. But, he said, a wide segment of what he called "core news viewers" felt compelled to keep up with the war regularly all day. "This group had no motivation to switch over and go the network newscasts to get a lot of the same story," he added.
That does not account for the ability of NBC to add viewers to its newscast while the others were losing them. NBC, though, does have the advantage of its own 24-hour news cable channel, MSNBC, which has been able to keep up with the story all day while urging viewers to watch the broadcast network's newscast each evening.
"The reason I think we're up is we can show what's happening on two different channels," said Neal Shapiro, the president of NBC News. "We know these news people are clicking all over the place. We have the peacock up in both places. We have our key people on the air in both places. That creates a comfort level. ABC and CBS don't have that."
Mr. Heyward agreed that NBC enjoyed a certain advantage in having a news operation that included both broadcast and cable outlets. "I've always said having the additional option of a cable network is valuable," he said. Among other reasons, he said, is savings that come from sharing the costs of news coverage. Both Mr. Heyward's network, CBS, and ABC have in the past sought to gain those advantages by combining operations with CNN. Those deals fell through. So far the war in Iraq has not led to a resumption of the partnership efforts.
Mr. Poltrack of CBS added that NBC had another unique advantage. "NBC already has the highest-rated newscast," he said. "They have the leading morning show in `Today' and that can drive viewers to their other programs throughout the day."
"Today" did pull in some additional viewers during the war. But the real growth has been on the cable news channels. During the first three weeks of the war, MSNBC vastly increased its normal average audience, which had been a minuscule 300,000 viewers a day. MSNBC showed the biggest percentage increase in viewers during the period, growing by more than 350 percent to more than 1.4 million viewers. CNN's ratings jumped more than 300 percent, while the cable news leader, Fox News, increased its viewership by nearly 300 percent.
What happens to all those additional viewers once the war coverage fades away will become a crucial economic question for the broadcast networks, which will try to convince advertisers that when news events become closer to normal, so too will viewing habits.
"I think you have to be careful about making grandiose claims for the cable news networks," Mr. Heyward said. "Remember, after the gulf war CNN seemed poised to soar, because everyone thought they had done so well on that story. We all have seen the issues and problems they've had since then. I think you'll see cable settle back into a more normal pattern."
The three alphabet nets with their over-the-hill anchors will never recover viewers who've switched to the cables simply because they're more lively. And.....in particular, FOX, because in the truth business, it has more gravitas.
"Like it or not, we lost a whole group of people to Fox, and I don't know if Bill [Moyers] is the problem," said David LeRoy, co-director of the public TV research firm TRAC Media Services. Older men who regularly watched PBS went to the Fox News Channel immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and never came back, he added.
As it's pledge week on some NPR stations, might I suggest that people who enjoy FreeRepublic click on the link and pledge here. Give what you can. NPR suggests $5 per month.
Other than that, cable rules!
I was thinking the very same thing. Not much mention about Fox and no real effort to go beyond grabbing for the first explanation that comes along, an explanation that doesn't really explain much.
Whatever this pathetic clone is smoking, Dan Blather would love some. What viewers??? Which anchoroids???? No one I know admits to having watched any of the drooling lobotomite anchoroids for the last 20 years. The last time I saw a network anchoroid was when a bunch of sand goblins killed the Israeli wrestlers in Munich - the name Frank Reynolds echoes faintly. Blather, Broken and the Quisling Canadian Pillowbiter are not about knitting "the fabric" of this republic, they are and always have been hell bent on its slow destruction. Anchoroid, chancroid, totally indistinguishable.
Once viewers realize that Baghdad Bob is far more honest than Rather, Jennings and Brokaw -- which takes less than five minutes -- they abandon the networks... never to return, I trust.
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