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Election Night Was Disappointing For The GOP And Traditional TV Coverage

“Why did 10 million fewer people watch election coverage on the networks this year?”

Andy Bloom

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Did you watch much Election Night coverage? Surrounded by a bank of screens, I watched as many as five different networks simultaneously. 

Television has a clear Election Night 2022 ratings winner: Fox News dominated the traditional and cable news networks. Its total viewers doubled the number of Election Night’s second and third-rated networks in addition to those of its two cable news rivals, MSNBC and CNN.

Nielsen Primetime Viewership Election Night 11/9/22 – Total Viewers

  1. Fox – 7.42 million
  2. ABC – 3.31 million
  3. MSNBC – 3.21 million
  4. NBC – 3.11 million
  5. CNN – 2.61 million
  6. CBS – 2.56 million

Fox News also won among 25 – 54-year-olds.

Further, Fox has a larger audience than MSNBC, and CNN combined, in both total viewers and 25 – 54-year-olds, during each hour of prime time.

Detractors can continue to make derogatory remarks about Fox News Channel. However, it offers the marketplace something that a large number of viewers across a wide range of demographics prefer. 

Republicans weren’t the only ones whose Election Night hopes fell short of expectations. It wasn’t a great night for television news either. 

The total number of viewers was disappointing, considering the interest in this election. Nielsen data (published in numerous sources) shows that slightly over 22 million people watched primetime election coverage on the three major networks and three major cable news networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and NBC). That’s off nearly one-third from the 2018 midterms when the same six outlets combined for 32.5 million people.

Why did 10 million fewer people watch election coverage on the networks this year? 

Possibilities include:

  • Cord-cutters may account for the greatest losses
  • Alternative networks have improved coverage and are stealing audience – NewsMax for conservatives and NPR for liberals. Univision, Telemundo, and Fox Business presented more extensive reporting than in the past.
  • Trust in the media is at an all-time low. Many people choose to get information from other sources instead of television networks.
  • Perhaps there was less interest in the 2022 elections than in 2018 when Trump was in office. We don’t have final data for 2022 yet.
  • Maybe interest in the 2018 midterms was an anomaly. According to the Census Bureau, the 2018 election had the highest participation for any midterm since at least 1978. 
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Each network lost audience compared to the 2018 midterms. Fox lost the least, about 5% of its 2018 Election Night coverage. ABC was down 38%, MSNBC by 32%, NBC 45%, CBS 33%, and CNN by almost half (these Nielsen numbers are from “Variety”).

CNN: It was a particularly bad night for CNN. It was the first Election Night since Chris Licht took over as its President. It was also the first time the network lost the battle for total viewers to MSNBC on Election Night.

The first noticeable difference in CNN’s coverage was the absence of Wolf Blitzer, who has hosted its Election Night for as long as I can remember. As CNN’s election anchor, Blitzer made the historic announcements of Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s elections and was the first TV anchor to call the 2020 election for Joe Biden.

Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper shared CNN lead anchor duties while John King manned the “Magic Wall.” However, Cooper or one of several data analysts would often join King at the “Magic Wall.”

CNN’s “Magic Wall” got my attention. The technology worked and provided the most valuable data, such as graphically showing where votes were outstanding.

CNN had the best use of technology. It’s something to build on. 

The problem with CNN is you can’t call it journalism. It is so far in the tank for Democrats and so against Republicans that it’s hard to watch unless you are a liberal. Except, MSNBC is the liberal network – and it beat CNN.

It’s one thing to have somebody like David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief political strategist, openly rooting for Democrats – or Karl Rove on Fox News. But Tapper, Cooper, “chief political analyst” Gloria Borger – and most of the other people serving as anchors and reporters might as well have broken out the paper hats, noise-makers, and champagne throughout their coverage.

If CNN president Chris Licht hopes to make CNN watchable (let alone successful again), he must clean house and overhaul the talent.

Is it that difficult to see the hole for a network that provides information – journalism without anchors that openly root for one side and against the other? 

ABC: CNN wasn’t the only network to change its longtime election anchor. World News Tonight anchor David Muir led ABC’s coverage for the first time. Good Morning America and This Week host George Stephanopolous has been the lead on Election Night for nearly two decades.

Muir did an excellent, steady job. If he has a political opinion, I couldn’t tell. I appreciated his unbiased view, although that didn’t hold quite as well when political director Rick Klein and FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver added commentary.

ABC also added a new graphics package and tri-screen interactive voting data that Klein and Silver used to feature exit polling numbers.

Its panel of experts is ABC’s weakness. Donna Brazille (who has been on every other network). Heidi Heitkamp and Chris Christie aren’t strong draws.

ABC is probably the most straightforward of the networks and has the second-highest ratings after Fox,

Fox News: Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum anchored the Fox News Democracy 2022 desk. To be sure, the coverage on Fox included plenty of conservative commentary from Karl Rove, Trey Gowdy, Kellyanne Conway, and the usual Fox Primetime hosts. But there is always a liberal included on the panel. 

If we remove identifying markers such as IDs and handoffs with conservatives – and could make them unknown – Baier and MacCallum would get high marks from media reviewers. I’ll make a declarative statement; Baier, MacCallum, and Bill Hemmer are as unbiased as any anchors that did Election Night coverage – and in fact, less biased. 

I will say the same about Bill Hemmer’s analysis from the “Bill-board.” However, where CNN’s technology worked flawlessly, Fox’s frequently did not. Perhaps it was just technical issues, but I found CNN’s “Magic Wall made its points easier to understand – when not riddled with bias.

Forgetting what you think about his partisanship, Rove is a genius. He knows every county and Congressional District in the nation. He can break down the towns and precincts within them. There is no better analyst – although he has points of view that others won’t agree with.

There were two things on Fox that didn’t work: The “focus group” segments. I’m not fond of the concept in general. A group of people who are in a studio and know they will be on television with opposing views isn’t authentic. It is more effective to interview people after exit polling,

I also didn’t understand the Shannon Bream voter analysis data. It seemed part exit poll and part pre-election poll. The last thing anybody wanted to hear on election night was more polling.

MSNBC: I lasted about three minutes with MSNBC. 

I thought they put Rachel Maddow out to pasture.  

Liberals probably have the same visceral reaction to Fox that I do to MSNBC. I saw a clip online from later in the night where an MSNBC reporter suggested John Fetterman was a candidate for 2024. Somebody, please tell me this is fake news or at least a joke. 

NBC: Used a combination of four anchors, including Meet the Press Moderator Chuck Todd, Today Show Co-Host Savannah Guthrie, Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt, and Andrea Mitchell. 

It might as well have been MSNBC. Conservatives consider this group to have a considerable liberal bias – and not without good reason.

The most curious part of NBC’s coverage was the QR code that kept flashing in the corner of the screen. Scanning the code brought you to their blog – apparently – something I had neither the time nor interest in doing.

While CNN, Fox, CBS, and ABC seemed to have reporters on-site in every major battleground, NBC had the fewest – or at least I caught the fewest cutaways to them.

NBC was the first to make the call for John Fetterman in the Pennsylvania Senate race. I’m still undecided whether this is because they have better analytics or their more Democratic view of the world 

CBS: Norah O’Donnell anchored “America Decides,” flanked by the network’s chief political analyst John Dickerson and morning co-host Gayle King. The latter just seemed strangely out of place. The Mariah Carey interview now online feels more in her wheelhouse, but maybe that’s my problem.

CBS also was the most cautious in calling elections, moving races from “toss-up” to “leans” to “likely” before making a projection.

For the first time, CBS News had something it called its “Democracy Desk.” It used this new feature to track “election deniers” and all the scary things Democrats talked about in the final couple of weeks before the election.

We’re going to come back to this Democracy Desk. 

Since I’m a conservative, I pay the most attention to Fox and find it impossible to watch MSNBC. It doesn’t surprise me that Fox is easily the top-rated network for Election Night coverage.

I appreciate the technology CNN utilizes, but CNN is the second “I hate Trump” network. I’ll ask it again, How difficult is it to see that the hole is for a network that provides information without anchors that openly root for one side and against the other? The other question is how much lower will the ratings have to go before CNN realizes that’s its only position?

ABC is working toward filling the hole that CNN should occupy – except that it won’t do it full-time. They also have the second-best technology after CNN.

Beyond those three, I didn’t find much worse spending my time on.

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Radio Has an Overloaded Spot Block Problem and Here’s How to Fix It

Raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership.

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While the radio industry insists that our medium is still king, I’m skeptical. I hope the numbers are being spun properly, I just have doubts. In either case, we’re sweeping a lot of stuff under the rug. People may still be “sampling” radio but are they listening? Do they buy what you’re selling?

The typical news/talk station airs 22 minutes of commercials per hour. When you add in five minutes of network news and spots plus recorded promos (commercials for ourselves), we’re talking half an hour of content killer.

I’m a typical listener. With rare exceptions, I only listen while I’m driving. Behind the wheel, my habit is standard: punch around my presets until I hear something of interest or at least actual content and not commercials. When a talk segment ends, I listen to the tease and then punch out. I don’t sit through what I know will be a five or six-minute commercial break. If the tease was done well and it interests me, I’ll try to remember to come back. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

Here in Dallas these days, I mainly listen to our two excellent sports talk stations, The Ticket and The Fan. And I always smile when I hear them constantly trying to convince me that by choosing to listen to their particular station I’m part of an exclusive club. That’s nothing new really but the branding is ingenuous.

105.3 The Fan cleverly labels listeners “TOLOs”, implying people who wisely “Turn it On, Leave it On”. The Ticket merely plays the highest authority card, referring to their listeners as “P1s”. I know what it means but the average listener has no clue. It’s an inside joke. I’ve never heard the station explain it but their faithful listeners supposedly wear the badge proudly.

I’ve never seen any figures on shared listening but I expect the crossover between the two sports talk stations would be nearly 100%. People do what I do, punch back and forth looking for interesting content.

After hiring and inspiring great talent and setting the tone for a station’s identity, a news/talk programmer’s primary job is trying to navigate a sea of clutter. There are various ways to do it but anything short of reducing the number and length of commercial breaks is just rearranging the furniture.

One of the most common tactics is promoting a commercial-free segment. In my opinion, that’s just calling attention to the problem and admitting that commercials are a necessary evil. I’ll bet your clients love that.

I admire and pity radio salespeople who have always had to fight to survive in a dog-eat-dog world but now also have to sell clients on the idea that their money will be well spent even though their message might be buried in the middle of a five-minute cluster.

Are there too many commercials on the air? Hell yes. 22 minutes per hour for talk and news? Why do people sit through that?

They don’t. They pop around the dial as I do, and are increasingly learning that podcasts offer information and entertainment with far fewer interruptions. The RTDNA and the RAB don’t want to admit that. Nielsen puts a rosy spin on the numbers because broadcasters are their main customers. Even highly respected news outlets report the idea that radio is doing great but read this and see if you don’t share my skepticism below the headline:

Americans Listen To Far More Radio Than Podcasts—Even Young People, New Data Shows

“American adults still spend an overwhelming majority of their daily listening time on radio broadcasts despite the rise in popularity of podcasts and music streaming services, new Nielsen data on listening habits in the first quarter of 2024 shows. Though younger audiences are starting to buck that trend by choosing on-demand audio at a higher rate than their elders.” Forbes, May 1, 2024

I’m not the smartest guy in any room. I’ve never been a GM or Sales Manager. I have been an air talent and program director, though, and I can smell as well as hear the problem. There are far too many commercial interruptions for radio to survive this way for much longer.

Retired WGN morning legend Spike O’Dell agrees.

“Are spot breaks too long? Coming from the talent side of this issue my answer is absolutely. I’m a realist and understand that they’re necessary but a five-minute stop set is a show killer and a ratings killer,” he said. “Why in the world would a listener want to wait through that amount of time unless the content was the most fascinating subject ever?

“When I left the airwaves, we were at 23 minutes of spots an hour, and even I got bored with my own show. Spot breaks and amount of spots played per hour is a long-time sore subject to discuss or ponder. But, it didn’t take this talk show host very long to learn that I was never going to win this issue. Money will always win out. Sometimes management should do the wrong thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Journalist, former media exec, and USC professor Jerry Del Colliano agrees and has an audacious idea: do what every other industry does and raise prices.

“Charge more for spots and limit to 12 per hour.  If there is demand for more, stick to 12 and raise the price of an ad,” he said. “Programmers have known for decades that commercials don’t build time spent listening — and they aren’t doing advertisers any favors by crowding too many spots in and creating an impossible situation to help advertisers succeed.”

Guy Zapoleon is famous for his music radio expertise and innovations but he’s also a veteran radio programmer who has to deal with clutter. He agrees. Cut the spot load and raise the rates. He says it should have been done long ago.

“Telecom and the major companies becoming publicly traded companies along with overpaying for radio stations derailed that idea. Look, I’m a fan of what Now 102.3, a Hot AC type station in Canada, is doing. They only run six minutes an hour versus 12 minutes for most of the competitors but they charge more to meet budget demands. They also go overboard helping their clients with remotes and ideas to drive customers to their clients to increase their ROI value.”

Now, there’s a thought: raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership. Offer them more personal attention, and hands-on assistance than you’ve had time for while juggling a client list and spot load that would choke a horse.

Back to Jerry for a moment. I asked him how and when programmers should design breaks. He brushed aside quarter-hour maintenance and stayed focused on the much bigger consideration.

“Where you place them is less important than the total number per hour but the idea of loading up two-quarter hours to run all your spots obviously isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and won’t work.”

Cutting more jobs can’t improve profitability. Increasing your spot load chases away your audience and your sales strategy. The only thing left is raising rates and reducing inventory.

Explain to your clients that by paying more they are getting an exclusive opportunity to be center stage rather than being shoved to the back of a very crowded bus. Assure them your programming is the best in town.

And make that true.

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Libsyn’s Rob Walch Has Watched Podcasting Grow From Infancy to Audio Juggernaut

“When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

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A photo of Rob Walch and the Libsyn logo
(Photo: Libsyn)

Libsyn Vice President of Podcaster Relations Rob Walch is one of the founding fathers of podcasting, helping and inspiring countless people to start their very own webcasts.

“I’ve been in [Podcasting] since 2004. Got in it early on. I read it in an article in Engadget on October 4th, 2004 and it said, ‘If you want a podcast, just add this enclosure tag to your blog feed and you can podcast.’ I went, what the heck does that all mean?,” he told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

“So I figured it out and launched a podcast. There wasn’t many, maybe 100, podcasters at the time. And my podcast was about podcasting. So it was the first podcast specifically about podcasting called podcast411.” Getting the inside scoop from other podcasters, the podcast about podcasting focused on tech and promotions.

His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Just three years later, Rob Walch joined Libsyn. He now runs podcasting relations, business development, “and a whole lot more.”

The former engineer turned podcaster has seen a lot change since the industry’s beginnings, most notably accessibility. “When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

A “convoluted method” of uploading, transmitting, and manually adding each podcast into iPod tracks and then syncing to iTunes was laborious, and finding a new podcast wasn’t any easier.

“There was not really any centralized directory. There was Podcast Alley and a bunch of other places. Then Apple, in June of 2005, launched iTunes and it supported podcasting and that really was like the first inflection point of podcasting.” Another change to amplify podcasting came two years later with the launch of the iPhone.

However, Walch noted the most notable change that amplified podcasting came in 2015.

“The real big one was iOS 8. When it came out, the Apple podcast app was native and people can tap this purple app on my iPhone, and ‘How come I can’t delete it?’ They they started learning about podcasting.”

Rob Walch believes Apple gave the podcasting industry so much growth because, “At one point in time it was six iOS downloads to every one Android download.” Today the ratio is less skewed with 3.2 iOS downloads to every one Android download.

“I think the other change that happened after — it wasn’t an inflection point, it was a slow burn — was all the apps that you listened to music on began to have podcast directories … I think that, combined with everything else that led to where podcasting became ubiquitous, where we are today.”

Rob Walch also noted no matter what you read, “Apple Podcasts, is the number one place where podcasts are consumed. It’s 50% of consumption.”

Today, Walch believes the biggest trend in podcasting might be hindering to the audience. “People overly expecting video to take them to the next level and finding out that that’s not really the case. I think there’s way too many people that think they can just convert a traditional audio podcast into a video podcast, and it’s going to flower and bloom. Some do. Most don’t.”

“Most people forget that the reason podcasting is popular is because there’s more time in the day to consume audio than there is video,” he later said. “And if your audience is more of a B2B audience and you’re not good with video, don’t do video. Concentrate on the audio.”

Doing this also puts your podcast in direct competition with every video maker on YouTube instead of just podcasters.

Walch’s passion for podcasting has been evident since the very beginning of his career.

“My goal has always been to help people get into podcasting and that was what podcast411 was about. It was the first that said, ‘Here’s how you podcast. Here’s how you get done.’ That was the whole idea of the podcast was to teach people how to do it. I wasn’t selling webinars, I wasn’t trying to sign people up into this mastermind group or any of that into any of those slimy, hyper-marketing type things. I just wanted people to be able to podcast.”

For those looking to take to the mic, Rob Walch has several words of wisdom.

“Anybody could do it. That there is no magic bolt. There’s no secret sauce. There’s no way you’re going to instantly grow an audience. You have to get lucky for a show, in some ways. But you also have to be dedicated to it.”

He also noted people do not ask the right questions when it comes to launching their own podcast. “You got to answer these two questions, which is: What are you going to call your show and what’s it going to be about?”

“When you go into search, it’s called predictive search results. As you start typing, it starts giving you the results. The first word in the title of your podcast is so important. So if you’re starting a podcast, the thing you really want to make sure is: What is the one word that you think people would be searching for your topic? And it’s not your name. If they know your name, they’ll find you. Put that at the end. But what’s the one word in the topic if you’re going to spend money on Google AdSense?”

Rob Walch suggests going to Google Trends and looking at the top three popular words for the topic you want your podcast to be about. He gave this example, “I had a friend whose podcast was called the Fifth Race Podcast, and people are like, ‘What’s that about?’ It was about Stargate because it was this obscure reference in Stargate to the fifth race. And if you were Stargate fan, you got it right. But that’s not what people would say, or even people that were into Stargate don’t search for the fifth race. They search for Stargate.”

“I just said to just put ‘Stargate: The Unofficial Fifth Race Podcast.’ He just changed his title around. He went from not being searched and not being found when you search Stargate, to being the number one show when you search Stargate. Just making sure you know what people are searching for and optimizing the title of your show really will help people stumble upon your show. And that’s so important to grow your show.”

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How Radio Personalities Can Be Both Likeable and Opinionated in Difficult Conversations

Don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast.

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We often talk about being as relatable as possible as a talk radio show host. Be present with where your listeners are. Think like they do. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s easy to do on paper, but there’s always that push and pull as a talk radio show host. You’re interacting with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and other prominent folks in your community to whom your listener may not have access.

That is part of what makes you credible in their eyes, and it’s part of what gives you insights on topics that the “average listener” cannot get access to. It’s why they listen to you.

But in the end, they — at least in part — want to listen to you because they like you and relate to you. Which means you have to relate to them. And please, don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast. Likable and wildly opinionated can, and ideally should, work in conjunction.

I bring all this up to discuss a topic that can apply to news/talk or sports talk radio hosts: stadiums and subsidies. It’s an incredible topic that can cross both formats. 

In Charlotte, city leaders are expected to vote next week on whether to approve the funding of $650 million for renovation projects at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.

In April, voters here in Kansas City rejected a ⅜-cent sales tax extension for the Chiefs and Royals. That topic is back in the forefront this week as the State of Kansas held a special session and passed legislation to use its STAR Bonds program to try to lure one or both teams to the Kansas side of the state line.

I’ve heard overwhelming media reactions suggesting stadium projects involving taxpayer subsidies are no-brainers. Cities or counties, a.k.a. Taxpayers, must help out where needed to fund the building, or upkeep of stadiums. Of course, the fear is that the team(s) will always leave their current city.

Sports media folks typically will support it because, if God forbid, a team were to move, their livelihood would be at stake. Plus, they deal directly with players, coaches, and team executives who can sell them regularly all the perks a new stadium can provide for the team and media members.

News/talk folks can fall victim to hearing too much from their political contacts who often promote and sometimes are the ones who vote on these projects. They’re influenced by lobbyists and others who are legally doing their job but are also on the payroll for the big-money entities involved. 

But who’s looking out for the little guy? That should be you.

While you may have the access and contacts in the higher-end social circles of your community, that’s not where most of your listeners live.

Political feelings always ebb and flow, but we are living in a country where populism is becoming more popular. The last few years have been hardest on those from the middle class on down. COVID’s economy benefited work-from-home white-collar workers, where one parent could stay home with kids who were stuck learning from home.

In contrast, the same economy hurt working-class folks, who were less likely to be able to work from home and certainly could not watch their kids daily as they tried to learn from home. On top of that, the stock market has gone gangbusters the last couple of years, while the working class has struggled to pay for its groceries.

The economy has been very different since COVID, depending on your socioeconomic level.

That said, as populism grows in popularity on the right and the left, understand where your radio listeners are at in their lives and their likely unwillingness, or at the very least, fair skepticism, to fund stadiums for billionaire team owners.

Don’t let your relationship with a player, coach, or team executive overly influence your opinion. Don’t let your buddy, the politician or a lobbyist, get into your ear on how amazing their plan would be.

I think back nearly 15 years, when the New York Giants and New York Jets opened MetLife Stadium to much fanfare. Then, the dreaded PSL (Personal Seat License) came into being, which simply gave fans the “rights” to purchase their seats.

It was, and remains, an all-time scam. Former WFAN host Mike Francesa obliterated the teams. To his credit, while he had relationships with the franchises going back decades and could easily afford nearly any ticket in the building, he never lost touch with where the “average fan” was.

So, as these stadium projects continue to pop up around the country—and they could be coming to a town near you soon—I’m not telling you how to think or what to say on your radio show. Just be aware of the political climate in the country today, and always put yourself in your listener’s shoes first and foremost. You’ll never regret it. And they’ll trust you even more for it.

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