For much of the last decade Fox News has dominated the Nielsen ratings for cable news networks. They spend a great deal of their time on air bragging about it too. In reality they haven’t got that much to boast about. Their audience is relatively larger because they corral conservative viewers on one network while all the other networks divide the broader, more mainstream audience into smaller shares. And even with high numbers for cable news, it needs to be noted that cable news is a far smaller market than that for broadcast news. The lowest rated national broadcast news program (CBS) still gets higher ratings than the highest rated cable news program (O’Reilly).
So despite their Narcissistic self-glorification, Fox News doesn’t have nearly the influence they like to pretend to have. And nowhere is that more apparent than on the Internet. MediaWeek reports that Fox News’ presence online is dead last in their sector, landing far behind CNN, MSNBC, and even Yahoo News.
“Foxnews.com averages around 12 million or 13 million monthly unique users, according to Nielsen Online, rarely approaching the 35 million to 40 million uniques that leaders Yahoo News, MSNBC and CNN regularly deliver in aggregate.”
The article offers speculation as to the reasons for Fox’s failure ranging from presentation quality to age demographics to the inability to translate the Fox flavor from TV to Cyberspace. There is some truth in all of that. Particularly the difficulty in recreating an online version of Fox’s trademark shoutcasting model, with blustery partisans and rhetorical melodrama. But whatever the reasons, Fox faces some troubling prospects for the future.
Being the number one cable news network may not be such a prize in the years ahead. News consumers, along with everyone else, are moving online for more and more of their information, interaction, and commerce. The next generation may have a very limited relationship with cable news, other than for entertainment and affirmation of positions already held. The preferred destination for learning about your world and your community is increasingly the Internet. This trend is even more evident in younger populations who will shape the future market for news delivery.
What will that leave Fox News when cable news is an afterthought and Fox is last in Internet news? It may be too soon to tell. The Internet marketplace is still fairly malleable and Fox has plenty of money to throw at it. Rupert Murdoch seems concerned about the digital future and has been touting the iPad as a game-changing device, though his focus in that area has been on his crumbling newspaper empire.
Perhaps the most profound observations in this regard are related to News Corp’s history with new media. It isn’t pretty. They had an early failure with the Delphi Internet service. They bombed with their acquisition of MySpace which nosedived promptly after the deal was signed. Their FoxNation site is an embarrassingly contrived pandering to the most repugnant elements of their right-wing base. They have taken a strikingly short-sighted position against Google and other news aggregators (despite being an aggregator themselves). And they are rolling out a doomed policy of locking up their content behind pay walls which will only serve to reduce their customer base further.
If the past is any indicator, Fox News is headed for more misery online, though there is this one bit of consolation: They will always have their most devoted disciples. Their rank for loyalty amongst visitors is the one bright spot for them in the ratings numbers. However, it also exposes their weakness as a niche enterprise that is operating more as a cult than a news outlet. With the past a trail of ruin, and no indication that the future is being attended to, Fox News is headed into a well deserved irrelevancy.