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What Comes Next?

A global pandemic followed by civil unrest followed by a bitterly contested presidential election has allowed news and news-talk stations to literally defy gravity throughout 2020 in terms of massive listenership.

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This past week, as I lay on my couch recovering from COVID-19, I desperately needed a break from the stress of non-stop election coverage.

So, I decided to do something that I had been putting off for a while.  I pulled up Disney + and, likely, became the last person on Earth to finally watch Hamilton.

It was worth the wait.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic on Alexander Hamilton was truly mesmerizing.

One of the songs really stuck with me.

At one point in the musical, after the Americans had won the Revolutionary War, the rather pompous King George III came on stage to lament the loss of the colonies with a catchy number entitled “What’s Next?”

That same question can now be applied to the news radio.

A global pandemic followed by civil unrest followed by a bitterly contested presidential election has allowed news and news-talk stations to literally defy gravity throughout 2020 in terms of massive listenership.  But the inevitable run of non-stop news cycle gold is coming to an end. The election is over, a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon, and cities are no longer burning.

At some point in 2021, life will start to resemble normalcy.

With that, the tide will go out for news media. I could literally sense every News Director and Producer across the country grappling with every ounce of strength to hold on to the 2020 Election Story…trying to drag it out if they could.

Even as it became clear that Joe Biden had won this damn thing, every network did what they could to drag out the suspense.  One more hour, one more day, one more news cycle.  Finally, there was just no more water that they could squeeze out of the proverbial sponge.

The bevy of non-stop stories covered up for a multitude of sins that the news media, (and radio, in particular) have committed over the years.  The audience is getting older, younger consumers are embracing more technologically savvy platforms and ad revenue is shifting away to new media further than traditional operators can keep up with it.

All is not lost.  As we head into 2021, here are three things that I sincerely want to see news-talk and news radio embrace with gusto.

OWN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD…EXCLUSIVELY.

It’s the oldest rule in the book…and it still applies.  You can never go wrong talking about what’s going on in your own neighborhood.  But you must do more than that…. you must own it.  You need hosts, anchors and reporters that can get EXCLUSIVES.  They need to be able to get a story that no one else has.

I was always amazed by walking into newsrooms at places like KDKA in Pittsburgh, where Marty Griffin would drop bombshells that would get the entire city talking.  Or KIRO in Seattle where Dori Monson would walk into my office once a week with a big grin saying, “Wait till you hear what I got at 12:05!”

These are the types of people you need to find and get them in front of a microphone.  They have connections, they work them, and they are tireless and relentless to bring fresh, new material to the table that no one else has.

In the news world, having creative hosts who are entertaining with interesting perspectives isn’t good enough.  There are just too many choices for the consumer on too many different platforms.

What IS a rarity, are the people that can tell you something you didn’t know was going on in your own back yard.

GET FEARLESSLY YOUNGER

I remember speaking to a high-end national media figure who was in the middle of hiring a Senior Producer for a network morning show.  This program is well-established and has a large worldwide audience.“What are your biggest challenges?” I asked.

“Our audience is literally dying off,” she replied.  “We are just not reaching younger people.  Whomever we hire MUST be able to tell stories that reach 18-34-year-old listeners.  We just don’t have enough people that can do that.”

Hearing that was amazing yet validating at the same time.  I’ve always felt that news radio’s biggest challenge was the fact that listenership was aging out of the 25-54 demo and there just wasn’t enough incoming youth to replace them.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  One that isn’t talked about enough is that the stories I hear on news radio and news-talk stations just don’t appeal to younger listeners.  Service elements like traffic, weather and financial info are now owned by smartphone apps.  Most news stories are geared towards people on the older end of the demo.  While this serves an important purpose, 18-34-year-olds are virtually forgotten and that is creating a missed opportunity.

I recall a particular episode of “The Daily” from The New York Times. They had a detailed account of college students that were living on campus and sequestered due to the pandemic.  Needless to say, life was tough for them.  Many could not leave their dorms and the food they were being given as part of their meal programs was often inedible.   The genesis for this story?   A TikTok feed that several students had started and that had gained steam online.  That was a great example of a story that effects younger listeners and was started on a platform that they use massively.

These are the kinds of stories that will reach the people that you need to fund your future.  Seek those stories out and work them into your rotation.

EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY, NOT RATINGS

I honestly wonder, at times, when radio transmitters will just go from resting on giant towers to something that will only be on display in a museum.

As we see 5G rolled out nationwide as well as the installation of in-car Wi-Fi, over the air broadcasting suddenly seems so antiquated.

I’m 43 years old and have spent the better part of three decades in terrestrial radio.  Yet, I can’t remember the last time I used the AM or FM features in my car.  I plug my phone into a USB port and I’m either listening to Spotify, Radio.com, YouTube Music or SiriusXM.

Yet, when I talk to so many of my colleagues in the biz, they’re still trying to chase down terrestrial listeners.  They’re sill pouring through mountains of Neilsen data, hunting down meters, chasing panelists, and playing what is slowly becoming a zero-sum game.

I remember once talking to a radio executive about on-demand listening.

“We’re relying too much on digital,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We put all of our shows online, and it gives people no incentive to listen live.  It’s hurting our ratings,” he replied.

The first thing to pop into my mind when I heard this was….’WHO CARES?’   It shouldn’t matter where or how people consume your product as long as they are consuming it.  No matter where you reach them, you can engage them….and that should have value for ANY advertiser.

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BNM Writers

Rachel Maddow’s Return Gives Ratings Boost to MSNBC

“After nearly two weeks away, Rachel Maddow returned to her popular nightly MSNBC show on Thursday, November 19th.”

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After nearly two weeks away, Rachel Maddow returned to her popular nightly MSNBC show on Thursday, Nov. 19. Back on Nov. 6, she notified the audience that she herself was headed into quarantine after being in close contact with someone who contracted the coronavirus. Upon her Nov. 19 return, Maddow revealed that the close contact who had gotten seriously ill from COVID-19 was her longtime partner Susan Mikula.

The Nov. 19 edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show” drew 3.78 million viewers. This was 13 percent above the program’s weeknight average for Nov. 16-20 (3.33 million) and was its most-watched edition since the Friday of Election Week on Nov. 6 (4.97 million). It also bested its direct competition within the hour, “Hannity” from Fox News Channel, in both total viewers (3.78 million vs. 3.7 million) and adults 25-54 (631,000 vs. 615,000) — as an aside, CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” at 9 p.m. actually topped both shows among 25-54 (745,000 viewers within the demo).

While Maddow’s return was the main highlight of MSNBC’s Nov. 19th night, the network had also featured a one-hour special at 10 p.m. entitled “A Promised Land: A Conversation with Barack Obama” (2.95 million viewers), which focused on the topics discussed in the 44th U.S. President’s recently-released bestselling memoir. For the 8-11 p.m. prime time period on Thursday Nov. 19, MSNBC averaged 3.06 million viewers, 680,000 more than its broadcast network parent network NBC with a lineup of comedy “Superstore” (one original episode followed by a repeat), detective drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and newsmagazine “Dateline NBC.”

For the week ending Nov. 22, 2020, according to total day data (from 6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. each day), the three major cable news networks were all within a margin of just 94,000 viewers with each posting healthy averages — a reflection they’re still basking in post-election news coverage. After a two-week stint in the runner-up cable news spot, Fox News Channel returned as most-watched with an average of 1.5 million viewers. CNN slipped to 1.42 million followed by MSNBC at 1.4 million.

In the key demo of adults 25-54, CNN remained as leader averaging 353,000 viewers within the demo; Fox News drew 253,000 and MSNBC 220,000.

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top CNN program with associated rank) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 11/19/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.618 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/18/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.490 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 11/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.261 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 11/17/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.248 million viewers

5. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 11/18/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.845 million viewers

6. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 11/19/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.784 million viewers

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 11/19/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.705 million viewers

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 11/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.670 million viewers

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 11/17/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.664 million viewers

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 11/20/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.618 million viewers

28. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Thu. 11/19/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.819 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC program with associated rank) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 11/19/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.796 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 11/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.795 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/18/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.769 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 11/17/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.745 million adults 25-54

5. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Thu. 11/19/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.745 million adults 25-54

6. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Tue. 11/17/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.715 million adults 25-54

7. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 11/17/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.710 million adults 25-54

8. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Wed. 11/18/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.690 million adults 25-54

9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Thu. 11/19/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.671 million adults 25-54

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 11/18/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.663 million adults 25-54

14. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 11/19/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.631 million adults 25-54

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BNM Writers

Fox News Tells Its Audience to Pound Sand

The Fox News slide is now far more than anecdotal. RedState reported last week that MSNBC’s Morning Joe beat Fox News’ Fox & Friends in the ratings for the first time in 20 years.

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“It’s been nice having you around for 25 years. Really, you’ve made us quite wealthy and successful. We gave you what you want. But it’s time for you to hit the road, because we don’t share those values anymore. We’re done with you. You’ve served your purpose, and please don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

In essence, these were the unspoken words delivered by Fox News to its legions of viewers on November 3rd, 2020.

One of the first signals came early in the night, as many viewers were just settling in for a night of watching the election returns, when the Fox team announced gleefully that not only would Democrats hold the U.S. House of Representatives, but they would actually surge and gain at least five seats.

In reality, Fox news was quite wrong, as Republicans rode a red wave to massive double-digit gains in the House. 

The climactic moment when Fox News unofficially gave it’s viewership the royal salute was shortly after 11pm, when the network’s brainiacs declared Joe Biden the winner in Arizona. That was the first call of the night to cut against the grain in President Trump’s most direct path to re-election. The problem, of course, is that the Grand Canyon state has yet to be officially decided…21 days later.  It may indeed flip from red to blue. Or it may yet stay in Trump’s column, after looming recounts and/or legal challenges.

Regardless, Fox was ready, willing and eager to kick its loyal audience to the curb. And truthfully, that is their prerogative. Changing leadership and, with it, a change in philosophy has foreshadowed this evolution for years.

Out were Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and others. In are Donna Brazile, Leland Vittert, Chris Wallace and other voices skewing left. 

And many other changes have been noticeable for quite some time. 

Neil Cavuto, a once-staunch espouser of free markets and conservative principles, has seemingly joined his pal, Mitt Romney, in the destroy-Trump-at-all-costs mission. Just two weeks ago, Cavuto cut away from White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s press conference, as she was pointing out mounting evidence of voter fraud. Cavuto simply couldn’t allow such assertions to go out over the Fox News airwaves.

Dana Perino, a mostly-fair yet non-Trumper, responded last week to current vote-altering allegations by wondering on air if, or when, the Dominion company would sue the Trump legal team.  She tweeted that she wouldn’t be surprised if they do. Certainly she may be correct, if one presumes the allegations of corruption are unfounded. The facts have yet to be heard and the process has yet to play out. Still, her gut reaction seemed to be to attack the Trump team. Same for many other contributors heard on the network.

Some of the shifting attitudes inside Fox News began to show prior to the election. One example came in September, when contributor Newt Gingrich brought up the influence of George Soros when discussing the violent rioting and looting in Democrat-controlled cities across the country. The startled panel of hosts chided Gingrich for making the remark and shut down the train of thought. 

The change inside Fox News has even escalated and attached itself to the network’s biggest name, at the moment. Tucker Carlson recently announced he’ll continue to host his network program, and then last week took what many felt was a personal aim at Trump attorney, Sidney Powell. Carlson correctly noted that he has yet to see verifiable proof of Powell’s claims of massive voter fraud, but then descended into personal attacks on her demeanor and credibility. Through text message exchanges, she has refused to appear with evidence on his program, and Powell says it was Carlson who was rude and unprofessional. Regardless, the last two weeks has taken Tucker down a couple pegs in the eyes of some of the more than 73 million Trump supporters. Many of these same viewers had, until recently, even put forth Carlson’s name as a future presidential candidate.

The big winners so far, as Fox News has summarily dumped its loyal customer base, seem to be NewsMax and One America News. Like Trump himself, both growing networks play to a conservative, traditional American base. They have seen skyrocketing interest and ratings over the past few weeks, as viewers search for an alternative to what they could count on for more than two decades at Fox News.

As Fox dismisses claims of voting irregularity and proclaims Joe Biden as “President-Elect,” One America News recently aired a feature entitled, “Dominion-izing the Vote,” which went in-depth into the “glitches, errors and money trails” related to the voting systems used in many swing states.  

The Fox News slide is now far more than anecdotal. RedState reported last week that MSNBC’s Morning Joe beat Fox News’ Fox & Friends in the ratings for the first time in 20 years.

The Daily Caller quotes a Morning Consult survey that reports while 67% of Republicans viewed Fox News favorably before the election, only 54% view them favorably now.

And depending how the 2020 election eventually ends up, these networks may have a new leader to glue them together with the Republican, conservative and populist base. At the moment, that leader still has plans for the next four years. 

As he is fond of saying, “We’ll see what happens.”

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BNM Writers

7 Million Tune In Across Five Networks For NASA’s SpaceX Crew

“The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with four international astronauts into orbit attracted nearly 7 million viewers across five networks.”

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There was still plenty of news to cover in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election that resulted in victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But one major non-political news event also received significant coverage: the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission. On Sunday, Nov. 15 at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with four international astronauts into orbit attracted nearly 7 million viewers across five networks. The three cable news networks carried the launch — CNN (1.92 million), Fox News Channel (1.27 million), and MSNBC (0.79 million) — but the launch’s top outlet was Discovery with 2.21 million viewers. Its sister network Science Channel attracted 761,000 viewers.

The audience was on-par with the splash-down landing of the SpaceX Demo-2 flight back on Aug. 2 (6.53 million across the same aforementioned five networks), but nowhere near the amount of those who tuned in to the SpaceX Demo-2 launch back on May 30 (15.43 million).

The SpaceX Crew-1 traveled en-route to the International Space Station to begin a six-month science mission — longest human space mission launched from the United States.

While that launch occurred, CBS aired “60 Minutes” featuring the first prime time interview of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama since the election of his former running mate Joe Biden to the office POTUS. An average of 12.88 million viewers tuned from Nov. 15-18, according to Nielsen Live plus Three Day data; 12.38 million of those watched it on the night of Nov. 15. With “60 Minutes” reporter Scott Pelley, Obama shared his thoughts on the current state of the nation and government as he promoted his memoir, “A Promised Land”. Earlier on Nov. 15, Obama spoke with CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King on “CBS Sunday Morning”; that edition drew 5.4 million viewers, which marked the 620th consecutive week “CBS Sunday Morning” was the most-watched Sunday morning news program in total viewers — that’s nearly 12 consecutive years on top.

Post-election coverage kept CNN on top of cable news for the second straight week. For the week ending Nov. 15, 2020 in total day data (from 6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. each day), CNN averaged 1.62 million total viewers and 444,000 adults 25-54.

Although they returned to dominate in prime time, Fox News Channel could not best CNN for the entire week, drawing 1.6 million viewers and 297,000 adults 25-54. MSNBC posted 1.49 million viewers and 247,000 adults 25-54.

Top 11 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.191 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.694 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/11/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.667 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 11/9/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.539 million viewers

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 11/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.311 million viewers

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 11/11/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.260 million viewers

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 11/12/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.103 million viewers

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 11/9/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.998 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 11/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.882 million viewers

10. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.806 million viewers

11. Hannity (FOXNC, Fri. 11/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.568 million viewers

12. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Fri. 11/13/2020 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.305 million viewers

13. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 11/10/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.247 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC program with associated rank) among adults 25-54:

1. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.355 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/11/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.034 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 11/9/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.921 million adults 25-54

4. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.904 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 11/10/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.903 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 11/11/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.889 million adults 25-54

7. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Mon. 11/9/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.858 million adults 25-54

8. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Mon. 11/9/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.833 million adults 25-54

9. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 11/11/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.831 million adults 25-54

10. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 11/10/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.829 million adults 25-54

62. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 11/9/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.581 million adults 25-54

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