What’s Fair in TV Ratings and Politics
Dispelling a TV ratings myth
One of the most misleading statements repeated time and again in media stories about rating for events like the January 6 committee hearings is that Fox News is the most-watched cable network on tv. The implication behind this statement is that somehow the political ideas expressed on that network’s programs are likewise highly rated among American viewers.
The truth of the matter is that this truth, or fact, of ratings popularity is only relevant to advertisers and bean counters in the media business. As a reflection of what Americans like to watch, and so a reflection of American values, it is completely irrelevant.
Fox News beats out the other networks in the ratings game because Fox News is the only widely distributed, openly conservative perspective available on television. For advertisers who want to reach that demographic, this is great news. Fox is a one-stop shop for promoting whatever it is they want to sell. For those advertisers who want to reach a more progressive or even centrist audience, well, it becomes more challenging — and much more expensive — to reach all the tv-watching public out there.
There are six such options available to those advertisers and the demographic they seek: the mainstream broadcast network news at ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, and the two cable news channels, CNN and MSNBC. For the week of June 27 — July 3, the news shows on these channels averaged more than 19 million compared to Fox’s 2.05 million.
Is that an accurate comparison? No. But neither is it accurate to imply some kind of popular political sentiment by claiming that Fox News is the #1 rated cable news network.