Michael Grynbaum has a piece in the NY Times about how the shows that make up Fox News Channel’s evening block (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham) have become the most-watched hours on all of primetime TV.
But he didn’t offer this simple explanation for why: there’s nothing else on.
I’m reminded of a story from June, when almost all the movie theaters were closed due to COVID-19. Christian Nilsson and Eric Tabach wanted to see if they could game the system. They shot a 40-minute short, “Unsubscribe,” then paid $25,488 for a theater in the Hamptons to show it three times. The two guys were the entire audience for the screenings, but because it was the only movie projected onto a big screen that week, it was officially number one in the weekly box office tallies.
Fox didn’t rig the system that way, but summer is traditionally the season when fewer people watch TV. The pandemic has probably changed that, but those who go looking for new content aren’t going to find much of it on CBS, NBC, ABC, or Fox. For that matter, there’s very little original stuff to consume from HBO, TBS, and other cable outlets. So, more people have flocked to the huge libraries of movies and TV shows found on streaming services such as Disney+ and Netflix — whose viewership is not reported by Nielsen, so Grynbaum can’t compare them.
Last season (2019-20), there were a dozen TV shows that each drew over ten million viewers — more than triple the reach of the current FNC lineup — but they’re all in reruns, so the only new episodes you’re left with are a couple of reality shows. There was a time when a group of people spending weeks together locked in the “Big Brother” house was a curiosity, but now that we’re all living that life, who wants to see it on TV?
It’s not like Fox’s right-wingers and racists are suddenly drawing 20 million viewers a night. Though the numbers are up a bit, its top-rated show (Carlson) is only seen by about four million people. That’s not even half as many viewers as David Muir has for ABC’s “World News Tonight.” But that show doesn’t air in primetime, so Grynbaum didn’t count it.
He also only looked at the primetime numbers for June and July, a period which included almost no live sports and thus nothing to watch on ESPN or Fox Sports Midwest. But when ESPN aired the documentary series “The Last Dance” this spring, it drew an average of 6.71 million viewers — again, way more than Fox News Channel. And when the NBA returned for its games-in-a-bubble season last week on TNT, its live TV coverage delivered a good-sized audience, as Mark Cuban explained in this tweet:
In the advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic, our prime time outperformed Tucker in prime time by 215%. He did slaughter us in the 70+ plus demographic, so have to give credit there.
Does Fox News Channel beat MSNBC and CNN? Yes, and it has for years. But if you think of Fox as representing one side, while MSNBC and CNN represent the other, the combined viewership for their side wins every night.
So, let’s not go pumping up Fox’s reach. After all, in a country with a population of 320 million people, couldn’t you just as easily say 99% of the public isn’t watching it in primetime?
The truth is, the only number that matters when discussing FNC’s viewership is one. That would be the Liar-In-Chief, who hears absolute crap from those evening loudmouths (as well as their counterparts on Fox and Friends in the morning), then repeats it as if it were a) true, and b) his own idea.
That’s the real influence of Fox News Channel.