Legacy Media Outlets Are Cashing In on Trump
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, needs to send President Donald Trump a “thank you” card or a box of chocolates. Maybe he already has.
No, not because he’s been studying ancient Chinese philosophy and believes that enduring Trump’s attacks on his network is a virtue, but because Trump’s new administration has been a windfall for ratings.
Whether you adore or revile him, there’s no one else like Trump. By comparison, former President Barack Obama had a low-key leadership style. Throughout his tenure, Obama, known for his oratorical prowess, was described as “mild-mannered” or an “intellectual”—but most of the time that didn’t make for good TV.
The fact is, Americans are genuinely interested in and fascinated by what Trump will do next.
Zucker isn’t the only one who needs to log on to Hallmark.com or head to See’s Candies (one of Trump’s favorite chocolate retailers), the respective heads of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, Univision, CNN, and MSNBC should do the same. And Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch should be the most thankful.
In the first seven weeks of 2017, CNN’s ratings were up 36 percent over the same period of time in 2016, and up 51 percent in the 25- to 54-year-old age group coveted by advertisers, Zucker told the Los Angeles Times. Cable news competitors MSNBC and Fox News—the latter with its slightly more favorable coverage of Trump’s administration—have experienced similar increases.
According to new February ratings by Nielsen Media Research, Fox is getting more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. Bill O’Reilly, host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” and Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, out of all cable news shows.
Trump’s press conferences and televised speeches, like his Inauguration Day speech and his first address to a joint session of Congress, have been a ratings boon. According to Nielsen, nearly 48 million viewers watched the Feb. 28 speech to Congress on TV—and likely far more watched via livestreams. Only 33 million watched the Oscars just a few days before that.
“CNN’s viewership has never been higher. CNN’s digital traffic has never been higher, CNN’s place in the world has never been more important, our journalism has never been better, so whatever they [the Trump administration] want to do, that’s fine,” said Zucker, at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7.
Meanwhile, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” experienced its best ratings in two decades after it started dedicating Alec Baldwin to lampooning Trump—despite what Trump says about him on Twitter.
The New York Times also saw an increase in subscriptions in the final month of 2016, adding 276,000 digital subscribers.
And it’s no secret the tone of the reporting is contributing. Study after study, like those conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School and the conservative-leaning Media Research Center in 2016, have found TV newscasts are overwhelmingly negative toward Trump, but they’ve given him a huge amount of press coverage to get their higher ratings. During the campaign, Trump received 15 percent more overall coverage than Democratic contender Hillary Clinton did, the Harvard study found.
Websites that churn out partisan click-bait are also feeling the Trump buzz.
According to Spike/Newswhip’s social media tracking service, stories over the past month that tended to paint Trump in a negative light generated a huge amount of engagement on Facebook (shares, likes, and comments). “While We Were Distracted by Trump, Republicans Advanced These 9 Terrifying Bills” reads the headline of an article by Resistance Report that had tens of thousands of shares over the past seven days. “Carnival Floats Show Trump No Mercy” was the headline of a story by German media The Local a few weeks ago that generated hundreds of thousands of shares and “likes.” The headline of another highly shared article reads “Actor Don Cheadle Just Revealed How Trump Refers to Black Women While Golfing.”
As CBS chief Leslie Moonves put it last year, “Donald’s place in this election is a good thing. … Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun. … It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
In the short term, it’s good for Moonves’s, Murdoch’s, and Zucker’s profit margins, but the overwhelmingly negative coverage will likely damage their brands in the long term.
One would have to infer that in the long term, the sensationalism will benefit the president, while he peppers the media with “fake news” allegations. But in the foreseeable future, they appear to be willing to simply let the champagne flow.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.