Cable News Audiences Get Even Older

As I write this on July 7, 2014, I am exactly 2 months from becoming irrelevant.  In just 8 weeks I turn 55.  I will be leaving the coveted “Persons 25-54” demographic, the age group considered key by most advertisers.  Oh well, this aging Baby Boomer did have some fun in the previous 3 plus decades.

When speaking with troubled talk radio stations around the country, those with audiences much older than me, I often say “Politics Suck.  Make it suck less.  Don’t talk about it.”  Obviously, that’s not easy to do when so many stations have Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity anchoring 6 hours each day. That’s where proper station imaging comes into play, something discussed in a previous blog and something I will expand upon in future musings.

There is a fellow who works in an Ohio radio market who’d always question me, explaining the people in his city really want to hear from local politicos. He had no research to back this up, other than local politicians telling him how important and great he was.  His station had very low Persons 25-54 shares and I remember saying to him, “What’s the average age of your station?”  He said, “68 or 69.”  I replied, “Well my station (700WLW at the time) is 50 and it has double digit 25-54 numbers.  So keep putting politicians on taking about things few people care about.”

We all know talk radio is aging quickly and I think you’ll agree with me talk radio takes a cue from cable news channels, like how you can set a calendar on the annual “War on Christmas” narrative. Many stations are affiliated with Fox News Radio, which takes its name from the Fox News Channel. Before I go any further, I want to say I think Fox News Radio does a great job.  High story count, concise writing, excellent use of sound and exceptional anchor performance.  They’re pretty good. But, it’s a brand you probably DON’T want to name your station after.

A few years back I was discussing this with one of the high level programming executives at Clear Channel.  I explained it’s not a good idea to call a station Fox News 550KFYI, as was the case a few years ago with this Phoenix station, or Fox News 970WFLA in Tampa.

Here’s why:

  1. No one is questioning Fox News (Channel) is a huge brand to a segment of the audience.  The important word here is segment, a group made up of much older consumers.  If the goal is to get Persons 25-54 shares, naming a station after Fox News is problematic since the brand doesn’t resonate with people under 50.    
  2. Fox News (Channel) is liked by people who lean “conservative,” a group of people less likely to take part in ratings surveys.  I explained this in a previous blog called “Ratings are your Report Card.”
  3. The PPM rewards “employed listening.”  That’s Nielsen code for “younger people,” as the PPM is less likely to reward listening to radio stations for groups 55 and over.  

If achieving high ratings is the goal for a talk or any radio station, it makes little sense to co-brand Fox News with the station name or call letters.  Remember the only thing that matters is your “Report Card.”  Your ratings.  Higher ratings mean higher revenues.  And that’s Rule #1. cable_news_logos Part of my presentation to station programmers and air talent is showing them the average age of viewers to cable news channels.  A few years ago Fox News Channel was oldest with viewers averaging around 65, CNN was next oldest at 62 and MSNBC had the youngest viewers, if you can call it that, at 59.

May is an important month for Nielsen TV ratings.  The ratings news this May was not good for any of the cable news channels. None of them.

Ready for this?

According to, the average Fox News viewer in the May 2014 sweeps was 68.8.  I think he’s a great talent and love his show, but the median age of a Bill O’Reilly viewer was 72.  I guess I’m bringing down his average. You’re welcome Bill-O.

CNN is holding its own.  Since last I looked CNN’s average age in May was steady at just shy of 63.

MSNBC is quickly growing old too with an average age of 62.5 in the May TV sweeps.

For total day viewing, averages from May 2014, Persons 25-54, Fox News Channel had 177,000 viewers, MSNBC had 103,000 and CNN just 99,000 viewers at any given time.  Said another way, you could fit every CNN viewer, Persons 25-54, nationwide into the University of Michigan football stadium and still have thousands of empty seats in “The Big House.”

To provide a broader and more fair audience estimate, here are the Q2 numbers from 2014, but they aren’t much better.  By the way, this is the 50th quarter in a row Fox News has been number one against the other cable news channels.  Someone has to be the tallest midget. Q2_CableNewsRatings My point, maybe talk radio should stop taking its cues from the cable news channels and focus on what listeners are really concerned about in their daily lives.


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  2 comments for “Cable News Audiences Get Even Older

  1. Lou Kasman
    July 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    As you know advertisers/agencies think the older demo is so set in their way they aren’t open to new brands and products and that just isn’t true any longer. Those age and older buy new TV’s, gadgets, more prepared foods, toothpaste designed/packaged for those older than 50. Watching the 3 evening network newscasts its one medication after another including Viagra.

    Auto manufactures as noted in Automotive News young (18 – 35) aren’t buying cars; they don’t have money. The people buying cars on average are 55 +. Fact is younger demos have no money to buy stuff.

    Recently Nielson held presentations around the country on the value of older demos and how to get advertisers to understand – Don’t know if it moved the dial.

    Point is if your radio audience demo is 54 + can you attract national spot buys and local advertisers?

    • July 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      To your point the issue with advertisers is once a person hits 55 to get them to change their mind on a product is difficult. The amount of money needed to spend on advertising to change someone’s habits results in a poor R.O.I. I’m turning 55 in a few months. To get me to buy something other than a Ford would be difficult at this point in my life. When I’m in the market for a car, I don’t even consider another brand. So I guess the advertisers theory is correct.

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