Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New York City, where I live, so I was clicking through the cable channels looking for news.
Click. An MSNBC meteorologist had the same information but was in a storm center surrounded by a lot of hi-tech monitors. He must know his stuff.
Click. A local TV station had a guy I had never seen introduced as, “the weather man you have trusted all these years.” I’m not sure I’ve ever trusted a weather man.
Click. The Fox station had a reporter broadcasting from a New York City subway station which had been just closed because of the approaching hurricane. She was interviewing a British family who were heartbroken to have their family vacation cut short. Their disbelief that the legendary subway system of New York, one of the greatest cities on earth, could be humbled by a storm was palpable. As a New York City resident I could totally relate. I sympathized with the tourists who had had their lives disrupted, just as mine was.
By realizing that television is fundamentally emotional medium Fox had created content that got to me on an emotional level. As the other news organizations fought out over which meteorologist had the best credentials, the most gear, or longevity, Fox was broadcasting the emotional side of the story. In case anyone has not noticed, Fox is winning the cable news ratings wars.
Here is a list of the number of people who watched the top 10 cable news shows in August 2011 as compiled by Nielsen. The top five shows are from Fox. In addition:
• MSNBC’s top performer, The Rachel Maddow Show, trails at #15, behind 12 Fox shows.
• CNN’s top performer, Anderson Cooper 360, trails at #25 behind 14 Fox news shows.
Here the top 10 watched cable news shows for July 2011:
1. The O'Reilly Factor Fox News -- 2.793 million total viewers
2. Hannity Fox News -- 2.059 million total viewers
3. Special Report with Bret Baier Fox News -- 1.815 million total viewers
4. On the Record with Greta van Susteren-- Fox News -- 1.658 million total viewers
5. Fox Report with Shepard Smith Fox News -- 1.576 million total viewers
6. Nancy Grace HLN -- 1.350 million total viewers
7. The Five/Glenn Beck Fox News -- 1.325 million total viewers
8. Your World with Neil Cavuto Fox News -- 1.231 million total viewers
9. The O'Reilly Factor (11PM Repeat) Fox News -- 1.179 million total viewers
10. Dr Drew HLN -- 1.140 million total viewers
15. The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC -- 974,000 total viewers
25. Anderson Copper 360--CNN -- 760,000 total viewers
With Fox’s right leading commentators and Republican connections the political implications of this, cannot be underestimated.
At trade conferences I have heard heard CNN spokespeople defend their low ratings compared to Fox in the following ways:
“Right wing issues are more black and white and are more easily dramatized.”
Ridiculous! A content strategy first attracts an audience, persuasion comes second.
“Offering a balanced approached is naturally is going to be less dramatic.”
Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! One of the most interesting things a news organization can do is to contrast opposing points of view.
In case anyone from CNN sill cares about ratings, it is easy to understand Fox’s content strategy because Roger Ailes, the man who build Fox from the ground up, wrote a book where he explains it. The parts of the book about television have nothing to do with left vs. right wing politics and everything to do with attracting audiences, gaining attention, and persuading.
Ailes recognizes that TV is an emotional medium and human beings, are emotional creatures. Here are some quotes from Ailes’ book, You are the message.
“Emotion is the double-edged sword of communication. When emotion is positive and genuine, there is no more constructive and powerful force of persuasion. But when emotion is negative or insincere, it creates a wall between the person sending the message and those receiving it.”
“People want to see a communicator have a range of emotions.”
“… facts provide the information and emotion provides the interpretation. You’ve got to bring something personal to the communication process. Otherwise, you’re wasting people’s time. You’re wasting your own time. To be a really good communicator, you have to start by knowing how you feel personally about what’s going on. Then, once you’re aware of your own emotions, you can more easily communicate in the right tone to others.”
CNN takes pride in not being politically left or right leaning and tries to run stories right down the middle of the political spectrum. Yawn. There is a huge difference between analytically balancing the left and right perspective versus passionately seeking the greater truth that supersede them both. Where is the passion CNN? It's all around and you ignore it. Go to any journalism school and hire the young passionate journalists desperate to fight for the greater truth that supersedes the left and right political agenda. Hire investigative journalists willing to risk it all to find stories that people can believe in. Are there any Woodward and Bernsteins at CNN today? I don't think so. There is no passion in mitigating between left an right. Go back to your journalism roots and fight for the truth.
TV is an emotional media. A successful content strategy must take that into consideration. To win the ratings war CNN will need to rediscover its passion.
The news experts who say that Fox is winning the ratings war because they have a right wing bias are simply wrong. Fox has found its passion, and that attracts an audience. CNN has not.
Wake up CNN!