As the news cycle calmed down under Joe Biden’s presidency and the pandemic subsided, U.S. media groups have suffered dramatic audience declines, with ratings for cable news networks CNN and MSNBC increasing more than 50 percent in the third quarter compared to a year have dropped before.
The cocktail of Donald Trump, a deadly pandemic, the U.S. presidential election, and historic racial protests last year sparked record interest in tracking the news – and drove cable TV, newspapers, and other journalistic firms soaring viewers and revenue.
Now these groups are facing an equally breathtaking relapse on earth.
Prime time ratings for AT & T’s own CNN fell 52 percent in the third quarter for viewers aged 25 to 54, a major demographic for advertisers, according to Nielsen figures. MSNBC, Comcast’s NBCUniversal left-wing network, suffered a 51 percent decline, while Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing Fox News performed comparatively better.
“This is new territory after the Trump bump,” said Ken Doctor, founder of California news start-up Lookout. “It is very unlikely that we will see such an upswing again in the next 10 years.”
At that time last year, Trump was creating around the clock drama. Americans faced another dismal wave of the pandemic as the weather cooled with no Covid-19 vaccine in sight. Protests raged throughout the summer in the United States while many workers were locked at home rather than in the office. Whether they wanted the comfort of Fox’s Tucker Carlson or MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Americans from across the political spectrum were on their screens.
The Biden era was decidedly quieter, while widespread access to vaccines helped mitigate coronavirus deaths. Fox Corporation chairman Lachlan Murdoch had told investors that the decline was expected this year.
“We are now seeing an expected decline in viewers since the election,” Murdoch said in February, which was “in line with previous election cycles.” He added, “We expect the news audience will normalize and Fox News will continue to dominate.”
However, even after his election victory in 2016, the Trump era had kept Americans caught up in the news and defied typical trends. Fox News’ prime time ratings for adults ages 25 to 54 declined only 5 percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared to 2016. CNN ratings also lost 5 percent, while MSNBC, the network of opposition to Trump, rose 29 percent.
This year’s smaller audience has financial consequences for these groups. Kagan, part of S&P Market Intelligence, estimates MSNBC’s net operating revenue will decrease from $ 1.1 billion last year to $ 940 million this year, while Fox News will drop from $ 3.1 billion to 2.8 Billion USD will fall.
The fallout isn’t limited to television. The New York Times added 443,000 digital subscribers in the first half of this year, a sharp slowdown from the 1.2 million added in the first half of 2020.
Meredith Kopit Levien, CEO of the New York Times, told investors in May that news cycles over the past five years had fueled “an unprecedented demand for Times journalism.” However, she added that “we are very confident that there is still great interest in the news”.
“I don’t think the world is getting any less interesting,” said Kopit Levien. “I don’t think it will be any less complex.”
Julie Pace, editor-in-chief of the Associated Press, told the Financial Times that the end of the Trump era “gives us a chance not to commute between the controversies of the day in Washington.”
“It attracts eyeballs, but it blocks the sun in a way,” said Pace, who headed the Washington news agency’s Washington office during the Trump administration.
After rising under Trump, news companies face bigger questions about the future of their businesses, especially as audiences shift from traditional TV and print media to digital alternatives.
“Presidential politics can certainly catalyze a lot of viewers, as can any ongoing drama, and you’ve had both last year,” said Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence at GroupM. “But [TV] Audience numbers will continue to decline in a pretty quick clip [due to cord-cutting]. So in four years in total [TV] Viewers will be 15-20 percent lower. ”
Doctor sees the correction as a warning to the industry: “It is clear that news companies of all sizes, national, local and global, cannot rely on explosive news cycles to model their business.”