Thursday, September 16, 2004

MSM: Shrinking Audience, Leftward Drift

I think Stanley Kurtz makes a good argument. As liberal bias drives conservatives and moderates away from broadcast news, the remaining audience is happy with the slant.

In market research, we often run into this problem. A firm losing market share will not see any indication of trouble in their customer satisfaction numbers. Their customers are happy-it is just that there are fewer of them.

Media companies have an additional layer of insulation. Their advertising revenue is based on more factors than the absolute size of the audience. As long as broadcast networks are larger than their competition, they can command a premium CPM. They remain the only game in town for advertisers who want to make a big splash. In addition, it is easy to cook up justifications and rationalizations about the elite nature of their audience, their higher spending in key categories, their role as influencers. (CNN has been successful doing this versus Fox.)

Much of this is poppycock and will not stand up to scrutiny. But here is the rub: liberal advertising types in Manhattan or San Francisco see no reason to scrutinize them. For one thing, it plays to their ego. ("People like me are more important than the masses who eat at Crackerbarrel and live in places like Stoughton, Wisconsin.") Second, they are not spending their money.

At some point, the process of drifting left by shrinking will go too far. Then, the advertisers will not want to associate their brand with an ideological media product. Ford, after all, wants to sell SUVs to Republicans and Democrats. The fierce rear guard action will become a collapse marked by a crashing revenue model.

Unfortunately, that will take some time. Even worse, it probably will not happen before CBS/ABC/NBC completely lose their reputation for fair and honest journalism and their capacity to do real reporting.

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