Changing demographics aren’t just winning elections, they are also reshaping cable news. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell beat their Fox News competition every day last week in the key 25-54 demo.
According to TVNewser, “For the week of November 12-16, Maddow’s 9 p.m. program averaged 480,000 A25-54 viewers, while “Hannity” had 439,000. In the 10 p.m. timeslot, “The Last Word” averaged 396,000 viewers in the demo, and “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” had 362,000.” Thanks to Bill O’Reilly, Fox News edged MSNBC in total prime time 25-54, 454,000-420,000. Partially due to the fact that they are available in more homes, Fox News still dominates in total viewers, but the fact that younger viewers are powering MSNBC is a definite threat to the Fox News empire.
Fox News has the oldest audience in television. The average Fox News viewer is 65 years old. In 2010 the average MSNBC viewer was 59, but they are the top cable news network with both African Americans and younger viewers.
One of the trends that has not been discussed is the fact that the audience fueling MSNBC’s rise shares many characteristics in common with the coalition that turned out to the polls to reelect Barack Obama. A new report from the Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism found that MSNBC and Fox News tilted their coverage in opposite directions during the final week of the presidential campaign, “In the final week of the campaign, both Fox News and MSNBC became even more extreme in how they differed from the rest of the press in coverage of the two candidates. On Fox News, the amount of negative coverage of Obama increased-from 47% in the first four weeks of October to 56% the final week. Meanwhile, positive discussion of Romney grew, from 34% of segments to 42%. On MSNBC, the positive coverage of Obama increased from 33% during most of October to 51% during the last week, while Romney’s negative coverage increased from 57% to 68%.”
It isn’t a coincidence that as MSNBC’s ratings have increased in direct relationship to their positive coverage of Obama. Fox News viewers will be comforted by the fact that they still lead by a large margin in total viewership, but MSNBC is gaining on them. The aging of the population will continue to benefit Fox News in the short term, but the demographic shift that tilted the 2012 election to the Democrats is also impacting cable news.
MSNBC is building a coalition that can win a demo today, and could challenge Fox News for cable news supremacy tomorrow. MSNBC is on the rise. If the 2012 election does translate into a leftward shift, Fox News’ days of ratings supremacy may be numbered.