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Kathy Shaidle

Lies, damn lies and television ratings

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Posted on April 28 2010 12:02 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."

Media Matters and the Huffington Post are crowing about the latest Nielsen ratings, showing a dip in Glenn Beck‘s viewership at Fox News. Media Matters thinks Beck’s weird (and now largely forgotten) hour-long interview with oddball Democrat Congressman Eric Massa in March marked a turning point, although their “logic” escapes me:

Prior to the Massa Moment, Glenn Beck was averaging 2.6 million viewers each week, and the show was still flying high. And in the short term, the wildly hyped Massa episode produced ratings gold, generating 3.4 million viewers that night, thank you very much. Long-term though, the effects have proven to be disastrous.

Uh, OK. Unlike Media Matters, I don’t claim to be an expert on the nuances of Nielsen. However, concentrating on Beck’s ratings month over month is just a way for them to hide the bigger picture.

The fact is: “evil” Fox News still dominates the cable landscape, by a wide margin. April 2010 marks Fox’s 100th straight month as the #1 cable network, with their closest competitor, Keith Olbermann‘s MSNBC, garnering less than half the number of viewers (785,000 total primetime viewers compared to Fox’s 1.92 million).

As well, cable network ratings are down across the board. But while Fox is down 19% year over year, CNN has shed an incredible 40% since last April. (Question: How many folks have simply canceled their cable during the economic downturn?)

It’s one thing to compare Beck’s ratings this month to last, as Media Matters does, touting his drop from just under 2.5 million viewers on March 13 to around 2.1 million April 23 as somehow highly significant. But what happens when you compare Beck’s performance (in the no-man’s-land time slot of 5 p.m. ET) with that of his ideological competitors on other cable networks, in so-called prime time? Olbermann and Rachel Maddow bring in less than half of Beck’s viewership, at about a million each.

More perspective from Mark Steyn, who made this stunning observation on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week:

…one night a couple of weeks ago, [CNN's] Campbell Brown had, I think it was 22,000 people watching. I’ve got friends up in Canada who get bigger readership than that on their daily blogs, with a potential market that is a tenth of the size of Campbell Brown’s. It gets beyond the politics, really. Those shows are boring, and the hosts are simply not as sharp. …

I mean, everyone goes on about Anderson Cooper, the exciting, young, new face of CNN. Larry [King's] audience fell by 54 percent last quarter, and the fresh, new, hot, young talent, Anderson Cooper’s audience, fell by 42 percent. So I don’t think there’s any future in Anderson Cooper. You just shed the audience marginally less dramatically.

Now, Glenn Beck isn’t above legitimate criticism. Even fans can be forgiven for thinking that he’s involved in too many projects at once, or using his blackboard too much, or obsessing inordinately about long dead Presidents. But when Beck is on top of his game, no one can match him. Last Friday, I caught an episode devoted to freedom of speech that served up a history lesson on the Mann Act, “white slavery” and Nixon’s “enemies list” that, had it been produced by anyone else but Beck, would be nominated for an Emmy and a Peabody.

Exit question: if, as progressives love to claim, Beck “just does crazy things to get ratings,” will these new Neilsen results force them to invent a new talking point?

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