OK, everyone. Buckle up. This one is going to be a fun ride.
News is out about the “cliffs edge” CNN’s ratings have fallen off so far this year. PANIC PANIC PANIC in some places, jubilation in others.
Let’s just put down the blunt instrument and take a step back.
CNN can no longer just wave it’s hand and discount what’s happening in the numbers. Cable news is built on ratings, which keeps advertisers happy, which makes money for everyone. At the moment, CNN is losing viewers at an alarming rate.
But don’t look for anyone to start jumping out of windows. They’re not losing gobs of cash.
Well, not yet. Very quietly and almost under cover of media darkness, CNN dropped a number of jobs and ceased production on a number of shows in the United Kingdom, a bureau for which the network became famous and broke numerous stories. However these days, it’s more about hamberders than fish and chips.
CNN remains a Top 10 cable network, despite the losses for May. Ted Turner’s baby was down 9% in total prime time viewers, down a whopping 16% in day-side viewers. FOX can ballyhoo all they want about another cycle victory, but the prime-time winner for May was TNT because of the NBA playoffs.
Of course, the far Right whack websites are screaming things such as “DEATH KNELL!” for CNN.
Rubbish. Clickbait. Pablum for the addled masses.
But this does beg a quick comment on why the landscape is as it stands.
OK, so perhaps not so quick. There’s a lot of ground to cover here.
Let me begin by noting I have worked with and personally know a lot of the people touched by this article. I respect them, call them colleagues, and even admire a few. There are, of course, some who instead of being in a news setting are more suited to infomercials, nail polish commercials, Metamucil testimonials and reality shows.
However, this is not about calling anyone out. After all, I still want to share cocktails at “The Hamilton” when in DC and not worry about someone slipping me strychnine.
This is about cold, hard fact of what cable/OTT news has become. Plenty of these talented people would prefer to be doing it differently, but they want the paycheck. Can’t fault them for that. As one individual you see every day and every week on air told me not long ago, “Every time I get that direct deposit I know just how tasty shit really is”.
So up front, let’s not take any of this personally. Those on the inside, from management to associate producer who have been there, or are there, certainly won’t.
Second, before we roll forward, tuck this away.
Among the Big 3 here, CNN is without question the fairest and closest to being “down the midline” in their reporting. It’s not even close. MSNBC is second, and FOX topples so far to the Right I’m shocked they don’t roll off the rails every single second of every single day.
Hold that verbal brick for a moment and read this next paragraph carefully.
What has to be taken into context is we’re talking here about NEWS reporting, not the panel shows and their crowing, bleating, shouting, hysterical “experts”, many of whom are more faux than tested in that sense. There is a Grand Canyon-esque difference between fact and fiction on the news reporting and the “nails on a figurative blackboard” verbal screeching side. That’s another verbal knife fight for another day.
Here, right now, we’re talking about news value.
FOX is #1 for a few reasons. One, they play to their audience with a varying number of stories and live reports. They have infotainment down pat here in 2019, and they’ve been a leader there for years. Flashy graphics, flashy hosts, lots of blondes and pearly whites, they play the TV game perfectly. While a faction of the industry and critics may not want to admit it out loud, I will.
FOX has and always will play the gorgeous female factor because they want women on the air who women want to look like, and men want to look at. It’s not right, it’s sexist, it’s demeaning, it’s gotten their top end leadership in trouble, and it’s right from their playbook.
A winning and money making playbook.
There, I wrote it. Boy, was that cathartic.
During the day they don’t do the same hackneyed panels. They do real stories, albeit a lot of them are biased and aimed at the far Right.
To coin a phrase used by a much younger set, “DUH”. Of course they are. It’s their audience. What did you expect, Home Shopping Network helping Hillary Clinton hawk DVD’s to help her pay off campaign debts????
FOX sticks with lots of wall building and bluster, lots of Roe V Wade, lots of attacking Trump detractors, but with something else that cuts the grain.
They mix in the soft stories, the heart tuggers and others that break the “doom and gloom” hanging over life. The kid with a new dog. The veteran coming home. The charity tune being warbled by the country western star because we ALL KNOW C&W hits the Trump demographic right between the button down fly. The 51 year old Mom who says men thinks she’s hotter than women half her age, a story that will have men fantasizing and some women pissed off at the mere idea as they run for another Dove bar, who just happens to be a FOX News sponsor.
You won’t see THAT on CNN or MSNBC.
FOX is first and foremost about entertainment. Arguments and flame-throwing second. Outrageous bullshit third. Even more incredible outrageous bullshit fourth. News is last. And people on BOTH and no sides watch because they find it entertaining. There’s little real information here. Most of it is hyperbole and warmed over nonsense for the gullible.
Save for Shepard Smith, who remains the only true level of news value on FOX day or any time. And again, FOX plays this to perfection. He’s the “anti-FOXer”, the guy who truly does deal in facts, low hyperbole, asks the difficult questions, and doesn’t roll over in agreement with every spit from Donald Trump.
FOX got it dead-on correct here in allowing him to go against the grain because he acts as a catalyst for their low information viewers, and trust me, in the hallowed halls of FOX, they mock, deride, and laugh out loud at many of the people who watch their network. One higher up said to me a while back, over cocktails of course, “Holy shit, you have no idea how stupid our research proves these people really are. HOWEVER, boy are they loyal and boy do they spend money with the advertisers!”
Ratings. Advertisers. Money. Get the flow?
Smith may have the FOX base enraged, but he helps SELL the product, people. He gives them something and someone to bitch about and call a “traitor”. It’s a perfect job by Central Casting, and Smith loves having the leeway. It has made him a very wealthy star.
MSNBC does a good job bouncing around with “Morning Joe”, but after that, a precipitous content drop off. Scarborough, like his politics or not, is the smartest guy in the cable TV room. Hands down, despite his skin getting a lot thinner since marrying Mika. But after they sign off, same stories. Same debates. Same questions over and over and over again. Andrea Mitchell is a brilliant reporter being wasted. I like Chuck Todd, but “MTP Daily” is trying too hard to be snarky and a far cry from the Sunday powerhouse the show has become. Hyperbolic guests that gush far too often and repeat the same thing said an hour ago. And I wouldn’t go near anything with Al Sharpton, the greatest liar on television today. That’s saying something.
CNN has the best and most reliable stable of reporters, without question. But they are buried in the malaise and the attempt to be edgy. Does Wolf Blitzer work 27 hours a day? The man is an icon, but is seen far too often. They need to mix it up more. When they do panels, which everyone does, have to tell you, they are often boring. We’re not asking for someone to jump out of their chair and dance on the table, but you can tell they are often pulling back for fear of being seen as too radical in any direction.
You can almost every show SEE…SOMEONE…STRAINING…TO….HOLD…BACK….FROM….BEING…TOO….EXCITED….think of seeing someone in a wind tunnel with their face and hair being blown backward at incredible speeds. That’s what it feels, looks and sounds like.
Lighten up, Francis. Have some personality.
CNN also does not cover the news anymore save for when it’s BREAKING or already broken. In that sense they do an excellent job. However, during the 24 hour breathing cycle, you would swear there is nothing happening in the world save for their panel talking points that were decided upon in the morning meeting and are simply being “freshened up” during the day.
FOX, and here’s where they win, does short bursts of multiple stories, like they used to do at the top of the hour on radio. CNN has largely abandoned this and thus is just one slog after another. No variety. No difference. No variety.
MSNBC? Same thing as CNN. Stick with the talking points. Nothing else matters. Head in the topic sand and drill the target audience. The one that’s not growing exponentially, honestly.
As for primetime, FOX runs the table from 6pm to midnight for a lot of the reasons I mentioned. They are audacious, mendacious, loud, lying, biased, bombastic, careless, reckless, spit in your eye hysterical.
Chris Cuomo comes close on CNN because he stopped being about real news when the numbers were dipping and now bulls ahead, making himself the news. Exactly what Sean Hannity and cohorts have done. Thing is, he’s just not that likable. Even the people who work with Cuomo find him to be entitled and arrogant to the point they simply don’t want to put their careers on the line for him.
Rachel Maddow does the best job over on MSNBC, but honestly, she’s far too smart for her audience sometimes. She’s erudite, better researched than anyone else in prime, and doesn’t have to resort to petty theatrics. Her staff loves her and will go the extra 5 miles for her, but even they know it’s a limited result. Still, she’s the best of the Left by far.
Yet Maddow will NEVER get anyone on the Right to cross over and watch what she’s doing because it’s too newsy, too Liberal, and not entertaining enough. Her numbers show a real fatigue, and her same old schtick needs freshening.
That’s a key reason why FOX continues stealing money at the top of the numbers. The overriding Trump base is actually smaller than the rest of America, the numbers prove it it. But even Trump haters cannot keep their eyes and ears away from FOX because of the shock value. They just KNOW something will emerge that will enrage them, and they don’t want to miss it. It’s grist for them, manna for FOX.
No one on the Right will shuffle over to CNN or MSNBC because, to them, it’s boring. People on the Left will stop at FOX because it drives the conversation. FOX is the train wreck, and viewers are the people driving by with windows open and necks craning for a better view.
However, before you delve too deeply into that Left vs. Right nonsense, stop a moment and consider reality.
Here’s the takeaway. This has NOTHING to do with politics. This isn’t about left versus right, liberal versus conservative, Trump hugger or Trump hater.
This is about ENTERTAINMENT. This is about Vox Populi, Sybil the Soothsayer, Miss Mata Hari, and the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves.
This is what Howard Beale and Paddy Chayevsky and Sidney Lumet predicted in 1976. Go watch “Network”, young ‘uns. Then tell me we’re not there right now.
Every network has to carve out it’s own niche. Now they have to live within their bubble or change. FOX has no reason to change because they keep printing money. CNN will remain dedicated to being down the middle and trying to do real news, but they’re falling short when they could be so much more. Management there is holding back some great talent, and hanging on to some marginal talkers, when they have the power to do much more. MSNBC won’t change because they see themselves as the wilderness criers if and when Democrats are back in power. They have staked out the opposition side, and they have to stick with it.
Cable news is not that difficult to figure out. Fewer people are watching now than ever before because they get their news from smartphones, real websites and bullshit sources. It’s quick, easy to digest, flashy, doesn’t take a lot of time, and makes for an easy transition to even more nonsense with the flick of a finger.
I haven’t even gone that deep into all this. What I’ve touched on here is merely surface material. But it’s a good primer to get started. People in the business know it’s all true, yet many don’t want to admit it for fear of their jobs. Many of which will be gone sooner or later no matter how successful they are.
Remember that these networks all make a lot of money on their platforms, their digital offerings, and other programming. CNN recently turned old tapes of the Apollo 11 mission into a spectacular film that cost them close to nothing and made money. MSNBC has the global might of Comcast dollars behind it, and they’re closer to running the world than any politician. FOX also has lots of other dollar sources, not counting what they get from the RNC and the President.
Oops, did I just write that out loud? I keed, I keed. SARCASM, people.
NBC is a giant in morning TV and late night, thought Jimmy Fallon is finally feeling Stephen Colbert’s shoes on his back.
News divisions are about making money. Money is gleaned from variety and entertainment. Entertainment is not being boring.
Again, “Network” had it right down to the last sheckle.
He may be the greatest fraud on cable TV, but Hannity isn’t boring. Just ask his advertisers. And how quickly did FOX pull triggers on Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson after they lost advertisers for saying stupid and insulting things?
Yeah. Look at the ratings, people. They’re not going anywhere. Neither is their audience.
Neither are you.