Democrats’ Message Of Hope THRASHES Republican Fear Mongering In TV Ratings

Now that both of the presidential nominating conventions are over, we can take a look at how the American people felt about the proceedings with respect to their television viewing. The Nielsen ratings are in and they tell a story that may have an impact on the election and its results in November.

Clinton Trump

From the broadest perspective the Democrats scored a significant victory (which may explain why Donald Trump is now pretending that he had nothing to do with his own convention). The cumulative total viewers for all four nights, across ten broadcast and cable networks, during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was 116.7 million. For the Republican National Convention (RNC) it was 100.7 million. The Democrats outright won the first three nights by at least five million viewers. On the fourth night Trump’s acceptance speech outdrew Hillary Clinton’s by a small margin of 1.6 million.

DNC RNC
Day 1 28.4 23.0
Day 2 28.0 23.0
Day 3 27.0 19.8
Day 4 33.3 34.9
116.7 100.7

The fourth night of the DNC event requires some additional analysis. It is fair to say that the night when a candidate is making their acceptance speech has particular significance. They are the star attraction at these shows and the impressions they make can have a substantial impact. Consequently, it should raise one’s curiosity as to why the Democrats won every night except the one when Hillary Clinton was making her big speech.

The answer is not especially surprising. When the numbers are broken down by network, you’ll find that Trump drew a massive 9.4 million viewers for his speech on Fox News alone. The following week, by contrast, Clinton was watched by only three million viewers on Fox. There was no similar disparity on any other network.

Clearly the people who watch Fox News were inclined to tune in to see their favorite candidate, Donald Trump. And when it came time for Hillary Clinton to speak, Fox viewers simply tuned her out, preferring to remain steeped in their own partisan stupidity. Absent this warped variable, the average viewership of the convention’s fourth night again shows a healthy lead for the Democrats.

More importantly, it shows a decidedly unhealthy tendency for Republicans to deliberately shelter themselves from the real world and wallow in a pool of purposeful ignorance. This isn’t a new development. A couple of years ago Gallup conducted a study that identified the political leanings of the viewers of each network. It showed that fully 94% of respondents identified as Republican or leaning Republican said that Fox News is their main source for news. Conservatives chimed in at 79%. And a whopping 97% of those who do not approve of President Obama pledged their allegiance to Fox. None of the respondents on the left came within 30 points of that level of extreme partisanship.

What this tells us is that Fox News is virtually irrelevant to the political debate in America. They cater to a uniform community of right-wing zealots whose opinions are locked in place. So it makes no difference that Fox viewers didn’t watch Clinton’s speech because they wouldn’t vote for her anyway. In fact, they may have just been following orders from their master. Yesterday Donald Trump sent an email to supporters telling them not to watch Clinton on Thursday:

“Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don’t watch Hillary’s DNC speech tonight.”

That’s the sort of advice that you give to juveniles you can’t trust to make their own decisions. It’s advice that cripples ones ability to understand the world around them and makes them incapable of knowing how to respond to information that isn’t pre-chewed for them by autocratic demagogues. In other words, it’s advice that Fox News viewers would rush blindly to follow. And what makes this even more ludicrous is that Trump himself declined his own advice. After earlier saying that he was not going to watch Clinton’s speech, he confessed to an audience at a rally today that “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I watched it.”

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Of course he did. How else would he know what lame insults to tweet in response? Trump’s ego would never permit him to avoid anything that someone might say about him, particularly if it’s critical. As an insecure bully he needs to have constant control of his surroundings so he can strike back when he feels he’s been maligned. These ratings results prove that he’s one of the losers he’s constantly accusing his opponents of being. But don’t expect him to acknowledge it. He’s probably preparing some tweets right now to smear the lefty radicals at Nielsen who he surely believes are deliberately sabotaging his campaign.

Media Warning Signs For The Grand Old White Republican Tea Party

The Nielsen ratings for July are coming out soon and there are developing trends in television viewing that portend problems for Republicans. Variety is reporting that…

“Univision is on pace to end the July sweeps in the numero uno spot, a milestone for the U.S. Hispanic network. Market leader expects to dominate July sweeps primetime among both Adults 18-49 and Adults 18-34 demos, in broadcast or cable.”

To be clear, this is not a ratings win among Hispanic networks or a particular genre of programming. It is the top spot for all television programming in the most important audience demographics. They beat ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX.

GOP Rebranding
Be Sure To “LIKE” News Corpse On Facebook

The political significance of this victory is that it affirms the growth of the Latino market, which has already been recognized as the fastest growing segment of the electorate. After the GOP’s dismal showing among Latinos in last November’s election (Romney drew only 27%), the party made a very public case for examining what went wrong, producing a thick document they called an “autopsy.” They concluded that the party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

Fast forward to July 2013. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with the votes of every Democrat, but only 14 Republicans. And now the bill sits dormant in the House where the Republican leadership refuses to bring it up for a vote. Many Republicans are openly hostile to immigration reform and have vowed to obstruct any attempt to advance it. Additionally, Republicans back voter suppression schemes that negatively impact Hispanic citizens. They also oppose the Dream Act that allows certain undocumented residents to remain in the country if they were brought here as children, have no criminal record, and are enrolled in either school or the military.

So despite recognition that the Republican Party’s viability in the future depends on broadening their base and appealing to Hispanics, they are doing virtually everything they can think of to alienate and insult the Latino community.

Another segment of the electorate that the GOP has had problems with are young voters. President Obama got a whopping 67% of the youth vote last November. Some of the issues that are important to this demographic include marriage equality, gun safety, tax fairness, health care, student loan interest rates, ballot access, and reproductive rights. These are all issues that the GOP polls poorly on among young constituents. Their autopsy noted that many respondents viewed the GOP as the party of “stuffy old men,” and acknowledged that “If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

Back to the present, we see that Republicans have done virtually nothing to avert the catastrophes they themselves predicted. And another signal in the media illustrates just how far afield they are in addressing the concerns of young citizens. The New York Times reports that Fox News, the PR arm of the GOP, is increasingly an island of far-right, senior citizens:

“[F]or six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time.”

This represents the highest median age of any television network. Hence all the ads for Cialis, reverse mortgages, and the Scooter Store. Fox also has the widest disparity between viewers 18-34 and those 25-54. MSNBC, which has been slumping lately, still manages to grab the top spot for for viewers 18-34 in primetime.

Republicans, and their preferred media, are bleeding supporters in key groups that they have already conceded are essential for future victories. Hispanics, youth, African-Americans, and women, are all growing constituencies. But they are being left behind by an increasingly extremist and narrow Republican Party that is only responsive to older, white, Tea Partiers.

While this trend surely portends trouble for the GOP, it is an opportunity for Democrats to show some real leadership and embrace the diversity for which the party is known. Democrats have an uphill battle in 2014 due to gerrymandered redistricting by the GOP. They have to outperform Republicans by 7% just to stay competitive. Consequently, now would be the time to start shoring up support for the faster growing and more populous voter groups that show the most promise for electoral gains. Let the GOP have have the white, senior wingnuts. After all, it’s all they have left.

UPDATE: Fox News, Nielsen Ratings, And Trust In The Media

Last month I wrote an article detailing some suspicious activities and histories of Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation, and their relationship to the monopolistic survey group, Nielsen Media Research. The article was titled, Fox News Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud. It should be noted that the publish date for the article was April 1, 2010. It is important to recognize the traditional significance of that date when evaluating the content of the article.

The purpose of this update is to respond to ongoing interest in the subject matter. The article has been circulating the Internet via links from prominent media players, including Roger Ebert and Alan Colmes’ LiberalLand. So I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify a couple of points and to offer some analysis of the response.

First of all, despite the “first day of April” publication, the article’s primary factual assertions are true and documented. Fox News did object to early iterations of Nielsen’s then-new People Meter technology. News Corp did have a prior business relationship with the manufacturers of Nielsen’s set-top ratings collection devices. News Corp was connected to corporate espionage and sabotage, which was reported by Wired Magazine. News Corp did make payoffs to certain parties to suppress a scandal involving email hacking and other violations of privacy of public figures, which was reported by the Guardian. And Rupert Murdoch is enmeshed in a tangled web with businesses and government agencies and leaders in communist China, as reported in Esquire.

The foregoing factual basis for my column notwithstanding, the headline and conclusions were squarely in the grand tradition of the day upon which April begins. Nevertheless, many readers approached the whole of the article with a seriousness that was only partly intended. To me this illustrates an inherent distrust of ratings data, as well as an eagerness on the part of the public to accept any plausible allegation of deceit or misconduct on the part of the media. I would have to concur on both points. Indeed, those points were the primary motivation for my writing the article in the first place.

The very real problems with Nielsen data are well-known and ongoing. They employ a methodology that is archaic and unreliable. It’s so bad that their biggest customers repeatedly attempt to fund alternative data providers. The latest effort is the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement. This group was formed last August by 14 big media enterprises including NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, CBS, Discovery and Walt Disney. At the time of the announcement I expressed skepticism that it would yield any positive results. Every other attempt to undermine Nielsen’s supremacy has ended badly for the new venture. The failures were due primarily to infighting amongst the coalition members and their self-serving pursuit of parochial concerns.

The CIMM does not appear to be faring any better than their predecessors. While it may be too soon to write them off, there does not seem to be any substantive progress outside of an initiative to agree on common definitions of research terms. The creation of an industry lexicon is hardly forward progress. And the companies that have some of the best data aggregation technology (i.e. cable operators, TIVO, etc.) have so far declined to participate. The CIMM is months away from producing any tangible results, and when they do you can expect sparks to fly as member companies find fault with what the coalition delivers.

As for Fox News, their recent ratings performance has not supported any conspiracy theory alleging cheating on their behalf. Their most recent quarterly numbers showed a harrowing 20% viewer exodus. Their star attraction, Glenn Beck, lost a third of his audience since January, along with many of his advertisers. But maybe this is just a ruse to calm the suspicions that are swirling around them. If their ratings decline temporarily, everyone will assume that they aren’t tampering with them. Then, when the heat’s off, they goose them right back up on demand. What a devious plot they are contriving. No one wonder no one trusts them.

Fox News Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud

Update 4/2/2010: A major development occurred overnight.
It is now April 2, 2010! (no foolin).
Update 5/10/2010: See this new analysis and addendum.

This week saw the release of the quarterly ratings performance data for television programming. Much of the reporting on this story focused on the dominant position Fox News retains in the cable news sector. As has been the case for several years, Fox News smothered the competition and experienced rapid growth while other news programmers stagnated or declined.

While most industry insiders accept the routine pronouncements from the sole ratings provider, Nielsen Media Research, without question, some observers could not help but notice a certain incongruity in the results. How is it, they wonder, that Fox News can be so consistently in the lead despite their obvious niche programming focus on a narrow segment of the viewing audience. The decidedly right-of-center bias of Fox News corresponds to a rather small portion of the national electorate. Republican favorability has been hovering in the mid-twenties for years. So how does this negligible slice of the market translate into such a disproportionate ratings advantage?

The answer may be evident in new disclosures of business relationships that call into question the integrity of Nielsen’s data. With the rollout of its People Meter methodology in the early 2000’s, Nielsen entered the high-tech era of TV market research. It was heralded as a major advancement of data collection that would vastly improve the ability of producers, programmers and advertisers to evaluate the marketplace. But as with any upheaval in the status quo, there were skeptics and dissenters. Chief amongst them was Fox Broadcasting, who argued that the new system significantly under-counted African-Americans, a key component of their audience at the time. There was also a question as to the security of the new set-top boxes that would be recording viewer choices. With the introduction of technology comes the risk of miscalculations and tampering. But eventually the complaints receded or were resolved and the new service took its place as the signature survey product for television marketing.

It was during this time, subsequent to the implementation of People Meters, that Fox News began its rapid ascent to ratings dominance. A prudent observer might wonder how this new system came to report so much more favorably for a network that had fiercely opposed its adoption. What transpired that caused Fox News to withdraw their objections and become the biggest beneficiary of the change?

It has recently been discovered that the Wegener Corporation, the manufacturer of the set-top devices that Nielsen uses, has a long association with Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, the parent of Fox News. Wegener was founded by the former management of Scientific-Atlanta, a producer of set-top boxes for cable access and other purposes. One of the other products in Scientific-Atlanta’s line was a device used by Gemstar to provide television program listings to cable operators and their subscribers. Gemstar was an affiliate of TV Guide, which in turn was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. So the executives who were responsible for developing and manufacturing Murdoch’s equipment for Gemstar became the principles of the company providing Nielsen with their ratings collection devices. And around that same time Fox News dropped their objections to the new People Meter service.

It would not be difficult to encode an electronic device so that it would purposefully miscalculate survey data. A simple algorithm to multiply a target by a fixed percentage could produce a result that would artificially inflate one set of figures while keeping it in proportion to a larger set, making it virtually impossible to detect. At present, their is no confirmation that such a deception has been contrived. It would require a thorough examination of Nielsen’s hardware and the ability to reverse engineer the chips inside of it. But for those who presume that it would be an outlandish notion, they would be well advised to study recent news events that uncovered similarly scandalous conduct on the part of News Corp.

One situation involves a digital recorder and satellite receiver made by NDS Group for Murdoch’s Sky network in Europe. Unlike TiVo, the Sky+ system records “personal viewing information,” which is information about your viewing practices that is tied to your contact information (i.e., it’s not kept anonymous, like TiVo’s).

In addition to that, NDS was also charged with using spies and hackers to steal Sky competitor Dish Network’s programming and make it available to viewers for free, thus undercutting Dish’s financial viability. As reported in Wired Magazine:

“The case involves a colorful cast of characters that includes former intelligence agents, Canadian TV pirates, Bulgarian and German hackers, stolen e-mails and the mysterious suicide of a Berlin hacker who had been courted by the Murdoch company not long before his death.

On the hot spot is NDS Group, a UK-Israeli firm that makes smartcards for pay-TV systems like DirecTV. The company is a majority-owned subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation. The charges stem from 1997 when NDS is accused of cracking the encryption of rival NagraStar, which makes access cards and systems for EchoStar’s Dish Network and other pay-TV services. Further, it’s alleged NDS then hired hackers to manufacture and distribute counterfeit NagraStar cards to pirates to steal Dish Network’s programming for free.”

On yet another occasion Murdoch’s news group engaged in some sleazy and illegal behavior to get stories about celebrities and politicians. The Guardian reported that Murdoch paid substantial sums of money to keep this scandal under wraps:

“Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.

The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public ­figures as well as gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.”

And if that’s not enough, check into the incestuous and disturbing web of connections Murdoch has to the communists in China. Glenn Beck tried to pull the veil off of this one but was censored by his own employer.

Given the history of sleazy conduct and nefarious associations, is it really that far-fetched to conclude that something similar has taken place with regard to Murdoch’s relationship to Nielsen and the firm that manufactures their ratings collection devices? It would explain how Fox News could wind up with such a dominate lead in the ratings despite catering to a relatively small potential audience. It would explain why Fox suddenly halted their objections to a new process that they previously considered inaccurate and biased against them.

It would also explain a deep discrepancy between the allegedly broad viewing of Fox News and their nearly invisible impact on the political landscape. If Fox were as ubiquitous as they (and the ratings) claim, then why, during the years of their strongest growth, did they fail to move the country to their positions. With a sustained 24/7 propaganda effort, Fox failed to stop the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress. They failed to stop the 2008 election of Barack Obama despite incessant and false allegations of him being a Muslim, a radical leftist, and a pal of terrorists. They failed to stop the 2010 passage of a health care bill despite charges of socialism, death panels, and national bankruptcy. Does this sound like a network that holds a commanding majority of America’s television viewers under its sway?

To be sure, I am not the first to question the legitimacy of Nielsen’s numbers. Many people in the industry quietly accept what they regard as a flawed methodology simply because there is no alternative – or because proposed alternatives are even less acceptable. When it suits their purpose, even Fox News complains about the ratings. And I’m not talking about simple complaints concerning minor numerical inconsistencies, but allegations of rampant fraud that warrant federal investigation. After basking in the glow of Nielsen’s data, Bill O’Reilly turns around and castigates them as having “major problems…that have benefited MSNBC,” and asserts that…

O’Reilly: “The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

Of course the “feds” don’t have any jurisdiction over private market research firms. And it’s rather hypocritical for O’Reilly to suddenly advocate for big government intruding on the free market. But conservatives like O’Reilly are not averse to hypocrisy when it furthers their agenda. And in this case the agenda is to work the refs at Nielsen and suppress any notion that Fox is not the king of the television hill.

In conclusion, if we are to have any certainty as to who the real king of the hill is, we will need to get to the bottom of this lingering controversy surrounding Nielsen’s systems and procedures. The connection to Murdoch’s covert operations and his history of unlawful corporate espionage cannot be dismissed. Nielsen must investigate their equipment providers and perform intensive examinations of the devices they place in viewers’ homes. Anything short of this would leave them open to charges of complicity and render their survey data useless.

Fox News Propped Up By Republicans And Southerners

A new poll by Daily Kos/Research 2000 explores some interesting, but not entirely surprising, viewing patterns for the three top cable news networks. The poll’s most revealing results are those that break out party affiliation and regional viewing.

Overall, 25% of respondents watch Fox News at least once a week. That number includes 23% of Democrats and 14% of Independents. The obvious partisan standout is Republicans with 52% watching at least once a week. Similarly, regional viewing is heavily weighted to the south with 39% of southerners tuning in to Fox News. The rest of the nation is far less attracted to the right-wing network who draws significantly fewer viewers from the west (23%), the midwest (21%), and the northeast (13%). Also notable is the dismal performance of Fox amongst young voters (18-29) and minorities, at least 80% of whom report that they never watch Fox News. In fact, more than 50% of all of the groups of viewers (party, region, ethnicity, age) never watch Fox News, except for Republicans (38%).

Republicans and southerners are also the most sharply segmented groups in the survey when queried on viewing of CNN and MSNBC. An examination of the data shows that these two groups almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News. To be sure, Democrats favor MSNBC and, to a lesser extent CNN, in greater numbers than other demographic breakouts, but the disparity is nowhere near as great as that for Republicans and southerners.

These numbers are essentially repeated when the question turns from viewing habits to perceptions of accuracy. The only significant variance is in the “not sure” column. For those who reported being unsure with regard to accuracy, both CNN and Fox had percentages in the low twenties. MSNBC, however, reported 60% not sure. This number probably reflects the lower distribution of MSNBC on cable outlets nationally.

The bottom line is that Republicans and the south occupy a very different country than the rest of us do. This party and regional divergence could not be more pronounced. It suggests that a case could be made that the Civil War was not a particularly constructive event. The consequence of this discord is that neither the conservative south, nor the more progressive north, west, and east, are being represented very well. Previous studies have shown these same distinctions on policy questions like health care and opinions on whether the President was a natural born U.S. citizen.

This new poll is a useful glimpse into cable news viewing habits, but I would still like to see what a Nielsen survey would show. There is ample evidence that Fox is a predominately regional network whose viewers are clustered in the south. With Nielsen data to confirm this, advertisers might alter the way they allocate their budgets. Also, cable operators might adjust their channel offerings, which could help to resolve the distribution problem that MSNBC has been hampered by.

It is truly a shame that the majority of the country is being held hostage by a minority that is pushing a Dark Ages platform that opposes universal health care, civil rights, tax fairness, and environmental protection. And it compounds the shame that an overtly biased cable news network is artificially elevated in a manner that inflates its clout so that it can further distort the political landscape.

However, one other thing needs to be taken from this survey. The numbers of respondents who say they never watch any of the cable news nets (averaging over 2/3) affirms my long held belief that far too much is made of what these networks do and say. The total viewership in primetime for the whole bunch is less than 2% of the American population. Putting that into perspective should give analysts pause when attributing any significance to what is said on cable news.

Media Consortium Contemplates Competiton To Nielsen

The Financial Times is reporting that some of the top media companies are exploring options for creating an alternative to Nielsen Media’s monopolistic control of the television ratings system.

“Media participants in the consortium – including networks owned by NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, CBS, Discovery and Walt Disney – expect it to be operational by September.”

Neilsen’s service has been the subject of criticism for decades. Its methodology is virtually guaranteed to misrepresent the actual TV audience. Out-of-home viewing isn’t included. This is a significant portion of the marketplace that includes offices, dorms, hotels, bars, etc. Their sampling is skewed by being limited just to those respondents who aren’t creeped out by having a device attached to their TV that records everything they watch. They do not account for cultural viewing habits where certain groups of viewers gather together to view programs. That has a disproportional impact on young and low income viewers, as well as sports fans. And the new media marketplace (i.e. digital viewing) is almost completely ignored.

So it is well past time to overhaul this archaic and inaccurate process of measuring TV usage. But don’t get too excited. I have seen at least three of these consortiums come and go. It is a high risk, low probability exercise that is almost doomed to fail before it begins.

Here is how it generally goes. The stakeholders (producers, syndicators, advertisers) come together agreeing that the status quo is untenable and something has to be done. Then they solicit prospective enterprises to fill the gaps that Nielsen is missing. The consortium promises to support the new venture and help them to develop a product that all parties will find useful. The new venture invests millions of dollars and thousands of hours in building their service. At some point they are ready to provide the consortium with sample data. In the instances that I witnessed, the new data was often in conflict with the data from Nielsen, but it was well supported and appeared to differ only because they were more accurate than Nielsen.

This is where the trouble starts. With numbers that differ from Nielsen, some parties will be up while others are down. The parties whose numbers are lower will immediately object to the new service and complain that they are not being represented properly. Then the consortium begins to collapse. As the aggrieved parties back away, the remaining members are faced with greater burdens to support the new venture because the cost is distributed between fewer players. Plus, these higher burdens come as the project is in turmoil, which makes any continued investment even more risky, and thus, less likely.

A peculiarity of the television advertising world is that these folks prefer inaccurate data to accurate data that makes them look bad. Maybe that isn’t really peculiar, just self-serving and dishonest (like that never happens in business). But it bodes ill for any enterprise that seeks to promote themselves by boasting about their accuracy.

As the consortium and the new venture have been wrestling to put together the new service, Nielsen has been busily disparaging the new venture as untested and unreliable. At the same time, they have started to adopt the methods and features of the new venture and slash their own fees to undercut the new competition.

The result is that the new venture eventually loses the necessary support to be sustainable and quietly fades away. Nielsen, after preserving their monopoly, retreats to their previous levels of poor service and unresponsiveness to their clients. And with the threat of competition removed, they inevitably increase their fees to pre-consortium levels.

At this point, there is no reason to presume that this effort will end any differently. Any business that is lured into this space had better be careful and apprise themselves of the history of these projects. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who are promoting this initiative. But I suspect that they have little historical memory of what they are proposing and they may be a bit naive. Time will tell.