Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cable TV News Ratings

When considering cable tv news ratings, a number of questions come up. Do cable tv news ratings really tell us who is #1? Do cable tv news ratings accurately indicate how many people watch cable news versus broadcast?

In the last year, cable tv news ratings have tried to convince us that audiences are rising. But are they?

A realistic look at cable tv news ratings indicates that the audience for cable news is no larger today than it was several years ago. Then why are we led to believe that there has been such a tremendous surge in viewers?

It all has to do with the creative manipulation of numbers. Cable tv news ratings, which are provided to the networks by Nielsen, are often converted into annual "averages". Because of a major news story such as hurricane Katrina, which brought an enormous although brief spike in cable tv news ratings, it would indeed appear that audiences are increasing.

These �average� cable tv news ratings are the ones supplied to the press. So we will read that Fox News showed an audience increase of 53 percent. Or that CNN had a 24 percent rise in cable tv news ratings.

It all looks very good. However �averaging� cable tv news ratings creates the false impression that the figures are spread evenly throughout the year. In reality, cable tv news ratings are among the most volatile in journalism. They are consistently spiking or falling according to current news events.

The truth is that cable tv news ratings have a normal base level. They remain consistent from month-to-month punctuated by occasional spikes during rare major news events.

In mathematical terms, the median or middle value should be the one considered when looking at cable tv news ratings. Not the average for a year.

If you were to analyze the month-by-month cable tv news ratings over the past five or six years, you would find little growth. Not nearly the amount of growth cable tv news networks would like you to believe.

Yes, according to realistic cable tv news ratings, there has been a gradual increase of perhaps three percent in prime time cable news audiences. However, there has been no increase in day time viewing.

So the next time you read in a newspaper that cable tv news ratings indicate a tremendous surge in viewers, take it with a grain of salt. The cable tv news ratings on which the article is based are probably an �average� for the year. Misleading? Yes! But it�s how cable tv puts on their best face.

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