FOX Ratings In Free Fall

The just released February ratings (pdf) for cable news networks tell a tale that is decidedly downbeat for Fox News. In a comparison with February 2005, the numbers for every network are up except for Fox.

This may come as some surprise to Bill O’Reilly who, in a moment of empathy for his competition at MSNBC, started a petition to replace Keith Olbermann with former MSNBC host, Phil Donahue. O’Reilly felt sorry for what he said was the net’s poor performance. Never mind that Olbermann’s show drew more viewers than MSNBC’s conservative hosted shows. And I certainly doubt that Bill was just being indignant because Keith was being mean to him on a nightly basis. Now Bill has to swallow the difficult truth that Keith’s viewership is growing while his own is shrinking. In the key demographic group of viewers aged 25-54, the Total Day ratings for MSNBC rose 47% while Fox declined -13%.

Fox’s Prime Time erosion was even greater at -21%. In fact, in every hour in the daypart, from 3:00pm till midnight, Fox numbers were lower. This is a distinction that only Fox, of the five nets surveyed, was able to achieve.

The largest decline was suffered by Greta Van Susteren’s On The Record (-22%), followed closely by O’Reilly (-21%). Hannity & What’s His Name took the Bronze (-17%). Of the MSNBC programs opposite those losers, Olbermann’s Countdown was the biggest gainer (55%), which I’m sure doesn’t bother O’Reilly at all.

The growing feud between Bill and Keith is something unique in commercial television. It has taken on a personal tone that I can’t recall witnessing before. There is, however, a difference in style. While Olbermann is merciless in his mockery, he sticks to commenting on the substance of O’Reilly’s program and the stupid or demonstrably false things that O’Reilly says. Billy, on the other hand, seems to respond only by pointing out that more people watch his show than Olbermann’s. You know, the 2 million flies defense. But if O’Reilly isn’t careful, he may soon not have even that to crow about.