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?”
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
- Fox – 7.42 million
- ABC – 3.31 million
- MSNBC – 3.21 million
- NBC – 3.11 million
- CNN – 2.61 million
- 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?
- 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.
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.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.
The Only Path Forward For News Radio is Strong Personalities
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than News/Talk
If radio wants to keep up, personality has to be the way. The format of choice is irrelevant, but personality has to be the biggest asset for the format and station.
It’s something I’ve written about before in this column, but when it gets reinforced by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, it’s worth mentioning again.
In a great conversation with Talkers’ Michael Harrison, Pittman pointed out that “25% of iHeart’s stations do not play music”, and that more and more shows on the company’s music stations are “actually talk shows that play little or no music at all.”
Then came the best line of the conversation, when Pittman said, “Even on our music stations, you find us moving much more towards heavier personalities, because as we begin to say, If somebody just wanted music, they’ve got a lot of places to go. We’re probably not their best option, if they just want to dig through music. If they want somebody to keep them company, and hang out with them, and be their friend, and be an informed friend, and connect with them, there’s no better place. So we’re very committed to it.”
That’s it right there.
Radio’s competitive advantage is being a friend (ideally local), while using personality-driven content to develop that relationship with the listener to then drive listening occasions.
As has been discussed and addressed for years, music radio simply can’t compete with Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. if your goal is to listen to your music at the exact time that you want it.
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than news/talk, where the strongest opinions and deepest connections often exist. That’s backed up by the Time Spent Listening for the format, which leads the way in many markets.
In many ways, news/talk is the best — and most exciting — place to be right now in the business, and none of that has to do with what is shaping up to be a fascinating 2024 election cycle. But rather because the industry’s biggest advantage to maintaining and growing its audience is its personalities, so if you’re already in the talk format, you’re ahead of the game. And then if you’re good, you’re a highly valuable asset.
As Pittman also noted in his conversation with Harrison, “For the first time ever, the radio business is bigger than the TV business, in terms of audience from 18 to 49 [year olds].”
National coastal media won’t write about that, because too many of them aren’t everyday American consumers. However, the data doesn’t lie. Radio is beating TV in a key demo and the leaders in the industry know that personality-driven content is their key to future success. That’s a great combination for those of us working in the business.
Granted, as we all know, it’s not all roses and sunshine. These are still tough times with continuing competition in the ad space and a soft 2023 shaping up.
However, the show must go on.
And as radio strategically prepares itself for not just the rest of this year, but the next five to ten years, there are plenty of goals that need to be achieved, but if growing and developing personalities is at the top of the list, that’s a win for the industry and an even bigger win for the news/talk format.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
If CNN is For Sale, Here Are 5 Potential Buyers
CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
It’s hard to run a cable news network like CNN these days. Just look at NewsNation. It was founded on the principle of being the first centrist cable news network to come into existence in years. But over the past couple of months, the network has peddled by coming from a slightly right-of-center angle with headlines. They’ve tried to steal left-of-center viewers from CNN with the hiring of Chris Cuomo. And now they’re literally going wall-to-wall with coverage of UFOs. I’m not even making that up.
In a world where a big chunk of its denizens believes the truth is a maybe while the other half doesn’t pay attention to the news unless it is bite-sized, does it still make sense to own a cable news network? Given the turmoil Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav has faced lately with CNN it may not be for him.
The company was forced to let go of CNN CEO Chris Licht this week after a scathing profile from The Atlantic that went behind the scenes into how Licht operated the network post-Jeff Zucker. It was a circus, to say the least. After reading the profile though, you still come away feeling bad for Licht while considering the fact that there is a hand that might have been puppeteering him along the way that was used to having control over everyone.
Zazlav comes from a part of cable where it is necessary to operate like a dictatorship because the formula has proven to work with Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, etc…and because the shows that air on these networks create their own warped reality to spit out for thirsty reality consumers who want it the way it is served.
It’s impossible to have this kind of culture in cable news where the personalities aren’t really the star of the network — the news and facts are and they can’t be warped to fit all interested parties. They just have to be true whether it benefits one side or the other. The truth is the truth.
There are new ways to tell stories and there’s new technology you can use to tell those stories but at the end of the day, telling stories also has the same formula as it always has and can’t be changed.
Remarkably, Don Lemon comes away from Licht’s profile looking the most intelligent when he says that many critics of CNN like Zazlav are committed to Monday morning quarterbacking. CNN went a little too hard on various things happening in the Trump administration too many times, but at the end of the day, it was the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable to the truth just like it has been since the founding of television news.
This lack of realization on Zazlav’s part shows that CNN probably doesn’t belong in the same company as Warner Bros. Discovery. The cultures of Discovery and CNN clearly don’t align. Axios has already reported that because of the low ad market, cord-cutting, slumping ratings, and the run-up to the election having not started yet, WBD doesn’t plan on selling CNN any time soon. It also should be noted that CNN still makes almost $800 million a year for WBD so it is not the big loss of an asset that many in the media would make you think it is.
At the same time, unless Zazlav decides to change his mindset, he needs to sell before this situation becomes unmanageable. CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds democracy and the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
The Mickey Mouse Club owns the news organization that already has the most trust among conservatives on television besides Fox News (ABC News), so they would help legitimize CNN’s mission of garnering more conservatives.
CNN’s library of content would bolster its digital platforms and provide an avenue to create new documentaries and films. ABC News’ own extracurricular projects would be on a platform that has consistent reach with the audience they’re seeking and wouldn’t get lost in the clouds like it currently does on Hulu.
National Geographic could move its content to CNN and HLN and help Disney get rid of one less cable network (NatGeo Channel) that doesn’t generate revenue.
CNN already has the largest news organization in the world. Their addition would bring NBC over the top. NBC’s ability to promote news offerings on Peacock would get some much-needed help as well since CNN has the number one digital news website in the United States.
Peacock would also be able to add CNN’s library to its app giving viewers who crave live news and sports another reason to subscribe to the app.
Regulatory issues may prevail due to past rulings by the federal government but this may have a chance to go through if the government believes the internet and streaming and the fragmentation of television has created enough competition for a CNN/MSNBC combo to not be too powerful.
The Emerson Collective
In a stroke of sheer awkwardness, could the owners of The Atlantic be contenders? Laurene Powell Jobs has constantly spoken about how much she believes journalism affects the balance of our society.
CNN, despite its ratings drag, still plays a vital role in shaping what we talk about as a society. Jobs’ causes like social justice reform, immigration reform, and the environment might get more attention from the general populous on a platform like CNN
The Washington Post or New York Times
Both entities were hand-in-hand with CNN reporting on the latest developments involving the Trump administration and both also faced public backlash about what they deemed as important with a Trump admin vs. a regular administration.
They all share the same mission and journalism ethos and, in the case of WaPo, have a very wealthy backer who could fund a potential deal.
The media mogul has become more deeply involved with the industry than he ever was before. He has a stake in the sports RSNs that are currently failing, he owns The Weather Channel — the most trusted name in news right now which is a remarkable feat to achieve in an era where so many deny climate change and he’s in the market to buy more.
CNN being black-owned could quell the accusations of the network becoming white-washed. A partnership with The Weather Channel bolsters coverage of climate change for the cable network.
And for Byron Allen, CNN gives him a seat on the table when it comes to power and influence in the worlds of Wall Street and Congress.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.