Saturday, November 7, 2009

The media market has a conservative bias

Here is a sequence of numbers to bring tears of joy to a stockholder and tears of rage to a liberal pundit.* 


















It’s the quarterly operating profit of the cable network programming for News Corp in millions of dollars as reported since September 2005.  It’s not all Fox News – but Fox News is the main driver.

I love reading Talking Points Memo, the Daily Kos, Paul Krugman and Brad Delong – but its quite clear that the mass audience and the dollars are elsewhere. 

And whilst there are some nice new liberal media sites (including many I read) and I think people like Josh Marshall have reinvented part of American journalism that is all a delusion.  The media market has a conservative bias. 

Just to make the point further I have met a few media barons – including briefly the Sun King himself.  My impression of media barons is that whilst they have political views (often quite strong ones) there real bias is to things that are profitable.  Rupert is in my home town this week (Sydney) and he is personally expressing views associated with asylum seekers in Australia that are associated with the left of Australian politics.  They are not views expressed in his local newspapers

Therein is the rub.  He is quite happy to have his newspapers express views contrary to his own when it sells papers.  The media market determines media bias – and – as the above string of numbers show – the media market has a conservative bias and that bias is getting stronger.  Media bias follows the money-making bias of media owners.  People who proclaim liberal media bias are just not following the dollars.

I hope – sincerely hope – that Josh Marshall, Markos Moulitsas and others of the new media liberal elite can make a go of it.  But the conservative side generates operating profits of half a billion per quarter and that gives them a longevity (and power) that the new media – for all its obvious intelligence – can only watch in gob-smacked wonder. 





*In this case I am both a liberal pundit and a stockholder.  I don’t know whether to cry or to cry. 


Craig said...

There is a huge liberal bias in the media which is why they make less money - it's so competitive. Murdoch saw a large gap on the right and filled it.

babar ganesh said...

craig -- there is a centrist/corporatist bias in the media -- with the major media trying to compete for the same huge pool of consumers while not alienating too many people or large advertisers.

fox is succeeding because it found a ready set of people who can fall under an easily collectable umbrella (angry, for one, and pro-patriotic symbolism). this gives fox a natural customer base and brand.

a similar set of people kind of exists on the left as well, but they are far less unified and there is no common brand. they are going to be much harder to reach. the corporatist media won't lurch to the left to reach them as they are in the pocket of GE and other large corporations.

Michael Fowke said...

Agree with Craig. There is a massive liberal bias in the media. But your average person in the street is centre-right, and that's why there is money to be made out of catering for these people (the mainstream).

Eidolon said...

I know you're Australian, John, which often leaves me nonplussed when you so openly characterize U.S. politics and party systems. But since your comments sound essentially equivalent to our Democrats, I'll offer you this thought: liberal parties will never truly flourish until they rid themselves of the asinine insertion of the word "redneck" whenever speaking the word "conservative." Their constituents--and even moreso their elected officials--vocalize a very troubling and disconnected judgement about the character of alternate opinion-holders. This judgement almost always presents as nonsensical and anti-intellectual. For full disclosure, I am myself a follower of the Classical Liberalism philosophy, and a member of the U.S. Libertarian Party.

John Hempton said...

I apologise for the word "redneck". In Australia it has a slightly different meaning - literally describing a rural (and usually generally right wing but agrarian socialist) philosophy.

The word comes from the (extreme) amount of sunburn that our remote farmers get.


Anonymous said...

Fox/Murdoch is making more money for the simple reason they they have little competition, 85% of the combined TV, news and magazine media is leftist and since only 50-55 %of americans are, then Fox/Murdoch can increase share in a declining overall market

Every poll of US journalists shows they voted about 90% for Clinton, Gore or Obama and every political contribution data show that 90% of their personals contribution went for the Democrats and if you look at ownership at top managers is the same. Check it out because it is utterly amazing, in England, France, Germany it is not so biased, in America they ignore their market except for Murdoch

Actually it is the opposite, the owners of all the other media conglomerats in America prefer to lose money and mkt share but keep a leftist bias and until Murdoch arrived nobody caterede to a conservative audience except talk radio

Now, there is an evident explanation of why Murdoch is the only one to cater to a conservative audience, and it has to do with the fact that he is also unique as owner of a media conglomerate in America....

Rich said...

Is it possible that the bias you describe is one based in part on demography.

Older people are the newspaper buyers, and may tend to be more conservative. They also have the unfortunate tendency to die faster than young people, which might partially account for the deathly pallor of newspaper sales.

Younger readers are more likely to get their news on the web and through blogs, and may presumably be more liberal.

This is all based on observation rather than facts.

Anonymous said...

John --

Markos Moulitsas and Matt Yglesias aren't in the game because they want to create profits for their shareholders. They write about stuff they care about and they seek to inform people. If they could make more money by lying to people or distracting them from pressing issues, they would decline to do so.

Fox wants to wring money out of its viewers for its shareholders. It scares them up about inflation even though U6 is at 20% because they sell a lot of advertisements to cash4gold and their ilk. If Pfizer or Humana is looking to support their political agenda, there's no better way to spend their advertising than on Fox. Sure, NBC or CBS will take their money and give their spin and lies the on-the-one-hand on-the-other-hand treatment, but Fox will drop their bullshit acid right on the viewers' eyeballs. Principles are what hold back the other broadcasters -- they don't have so many as to not care about profit entirely, but they'd be much more successful if they just sold the news to the highest bidder and dropped all pretense.

This is why citizen reporting is the future of the news industry, and it can't happen soon enough.


PS I'm way bummed that you denied my friend request on facebook.

John Hempton said...

Harry - I think I have now accepted your friend request. I just had not facebooked for a while...

Sorry. If not send it again.


As for your example - yes. They were not in it to make money. But they have a business - and they are great commentators - and if they made half a billion a year just think what they could build.

Come to think of it - if they even knew how to get 30 million pa in revenue...


Anonymous said...

Sweet. You could also have said, "because I don't know who the hell you are" but nice to meetya, longtime reader.

I would love to see the Yglesias Post come into being, or the Felix Salmon Wall Street Journal, but I'm not sure that their communicative talents scale beyond the "8 paragraphs of thought per day" format. I think HuffPo is the closest thing there is to such an establishment. I understand huffpo does well financially, though of course they're private. What good are shareholders if you don't need much capital?

I hope I'm not being snide or self-congratulatory when I wonder how much interest there is in this sort of coverage of current events. I think a lot of people just want their worldview reinforced. Do people believe they're watching fox news to become better informed? Challenged? Entertained?

I'm (allegedly) being trained as a lawyer, and one of the things we learn is that an average jury has an 11th grade education. Is it possible to make money by making people really think? Perhaps advertisers are only willing to pay that kind of money to prevent people from doing so.


John Hempton said...

I think it is another liberal conceit to think that the conservatives are under-educated.

Its true in Australia that you find plenty of working-class tories (I know as much as anything because I have handed out at elections).

But the biggest selling newspaper in America is now the WSJ. Another News Corp beast. Sure I am a subscriber - and not for the editorial...

But its editorial is beloved by many of its readers (and for that matter many of my readers).

It think its editorial is plain stupid in many ways and quite often - but it is plain stupid in an educated way - and plenty of its readers are way more educated than average. Indeed it is the editorial of they hyper-intellectual right.


Sure the average American (and hence the average juror) does not carry a high quality education - the average Australian is little different.

But the WSJ proves that the media market is conservative across income and education level demographics.


The only difference is that I usually have to work to prove the WSJ editorial is talking shite - whereas Fox is usually fairly easy to debunk.

I sometimes agree with the WSJ editorial. I almost never agree with fox.


On the left Michael Moore is dead easy to debunk. But he is fun to watch.


John Haskell said...

After reading the post and comments I am left with the strong impression that Fox's profit record is evidence that:
a) about 50% of the population is right of center;

b) pervasive groupthink in Manhattan and NW DC prevents all but one media company from addressing this right of center market;

c) the one person who has done so is making a lot of money.

DownSouth said...

Anonymous at 11:30 AM said...
"Fox/Murdoch is making more money for the simple reason they they have little competition, 85% of the combined TV, news and magazine media is leftist and since only 50-55 %of americans are, then Fox/Murdoch can increase share in a declining overall market"

Even though I agree that Fox has a near monopoly on the right-wing market, I nevertheless disagree with your Manichean left-right construct, and I believe that Fox's potential market is considerably smaller than you infer, more like 25% of the population instead of 45% or 50%.

A recent poll released by the Economic Policy Institute, for instance, shows 74% believe it is most important for the government to invest in job creation,
education, and energy independence; while only 24% believe cutting government spending
and reducing the deficit should be the top priority.

So Fox with its anti-government, anti-tax message caters to a rather small, but nevertheless significant minority.

And to brand anyone who doesn't agree with the rather extreme right-wing programming of Fox as "leftist" I think speaks more to your idological bias than it does any factual reality.

Anonymous said...

Fox appeals to more people because more people agree with conservative spin rather than liberal spin. Most people are really tired of government being the stars of the show. Most agree that liberal media are at best a little slow and at worst controlling or corrupt.

Anonymous said...

ITT we infer way too much about viewership from profits. How many people watch fox news?

Fox News averaged 2.25 million total viewers in prime time for the third quarter, up 2% over the previous year.

I think it's quite a leap to say that because they're better than the other networks at wringing money out of this viewership, that this says anything about the aggregate political beliefs of a nation of 300 million.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's because there are more liberal outlets relative to conservative ones: CBS, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, PBS, CNN vs Fox News and New York Times, NewYorker, Wash Post, Chicago Tribune (and just about every other major city newspaper) vs Wall Street Journal and National Review. So perhaps the competition for liberal viewers is more intense. Perhaps conservative viewers, listeners, and readers are more likely to pay for content to stay abreast of current events. Or (gasp!) perhaps News Corp is just better run than other media companies. You don't read about News Corp laying off full-time journalists, shedding units, and putting up grandiose skyscrapers at the top of the commercial real estate market.

And if you think that media is dominated by the Right in the US, then you are sorely mistaken. And you shouldn't infer media domination of one party by the quarterly profits of one well-run company.

Anonymous said...

@ John Hempton, "I apologise for the word "redneck". In Australia it has a slightly different meaning".

From a guy who lives in a country with such terms as, Mexicans, for anyone from Queensland, sandgropers for those from WA, who have lovely descriptions for anyone from England, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, etc. And very "special" names still in regular use for your own indigent countrymen, no offense taken.

Bogans and ockers everywhere.

Anon, Bob Dobb.

Anonymous said...

h -- I don't understand your assertion.

Unless you feel that Fox has some serious cost-control advantage over its competition, the profits are inherently tied to ad revenue which is inherently tied to ratings.

It has nothing to do with Fox "wringing money" out of its viewer base. It's simply a case of a larger viewer base causing an increase in pricing for ad space.

As an aside, I think the success of Fox and the conservative media is largely tied to the Presidential cycle and is currently the result of pushback revolving around how President Obama and the Democrats are handling things in Washington.

Their economic policies are highly controversial and they have really failed to implement any meaningful reform in either the health care or financial industries.

If I recall correctly, Fox wasn't doing too hot a few years back when Bush was in office.

Anonymous said...

Anon above said, "If I recall correctly, Fox wasn't doing too hot a few years back when Bush was in office".

Really? NWS, consistently profitable over the last 10 years? As well as increasing their dividend five fold?

Sounds kind of toasty to me.

Anon, Bob Dobbs

Anonymous said...

The ad revenue comments aren't entirely on the nail. Fox Cable News is considered one of the few "must have" programs by cable companies and they therefore pay more for the right to carry it. For that specific demographic, you can only tune into it to be the choir being preached to. Other demographics have more to choose from.

o. nate said...

I think that any discussion of the appeal of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh in the US would be incomplete without understanding the history of the "paranoid style" in American politics as famously described by Richard Hofstadter (see Paul Krugman's column this morning for a concise summary). There's a very passionate minority of the country that forms the core audience for this type of thing. But a passionate minority is good enough to win the prime-time cable news rating war. The other networks would love to appeal to this audience too - don't forget that Glenn Beck's show started out on CNN and they still have Lou Dobbs - but they haven't established as good a brand in this area as Fox.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, ....Bob Dobbs here.

It works both ways.

"We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest".

environmental activist, Discover Magazine.
-Stephen Schnieder.

Anonymous said...

I love it when Liberals explain who the Conservatives are by demeaning them and calling them names

Equality for all .... but white men


Anonymous said...

It is simply ignorance.

People are lazy and ignorant and Fox News gives them lazy and ignorant news.

The Catholic Church built immense wealth on the exact same concept.

Anonymous said...

"...and New York Times, NewYorker, Wash Post, Chicago Tribune (and just about every other major city newspaper) vs Wall Street Journal and National Review."

LOL! Washington Post, a liberal paper? You're obviously completely unaquainted with it.

Anonymous said...

And that is why Obama can't seem to get his plans off the ground. Thanks to Conservative crazies dominating the air waves of stupidity.

Ian Whitchurch said...

Theres about 25% of the American population that are, politically, completely out to lunch.

They believe things that arent true, they are easy to whip up into a mob and can hold two (or three) contradictory ideas at once without ever considering the concequences.

As a target market, that kicks some serious ass. You can make a *lot* of money by telling them what they want to hear, and at full volume - I mean, hell, let me just use the word 'televangelists'.

It's what Fox does, and I'm not at all surprised they do well out of it.

Anonymous said...

Yet again ideology impairs cognition. To suggest that the mainstream US media, on the whole, has a conservative bias is absurd.

Fox, WSJ...definitely conservative bias.

But please remember that CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, NYT, WaPo, and most big city newspapers (e.g. Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune)....all lean the other way. And pardon me for suggesting that anyone who doesn't see them so leaning is looking through a windshield very clouded by their own political prejudices.

RN said...

To claim that "CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, NYT, WaPo, and most big city newspapers " lean as far left as Fox leans right is complete bullshit.

Oso said...

Craig,Michael et al,

What you seem to intentionally misunderstand is that the media exists to make a profit.It isn't a charity.They sell airtime to advertisers.The last thing the media wants to do is to alienate their viewership with radical views and opinions.

This is why they focus on the center because that's where the majority of the American public resides.There is no liberal media,that term is merely a very effective conservative talking point.

If you eliminate the opinion shows (Beck/O'reilly/Cavuto) and strictly watch the news programs there is little difference.Both foreign and domestic policy reporting are not that far apart.

I hope you are fully recovered from your cycling injury. Your work is excellent.

samueltc said...

There's a great essay titled "Host" (originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, reprinted in Ira Glass's New Kings of Non-Fiction) on commercial conservative radio in America, think shock jocks, that makes a similar argument. In case anyone's interested... said...

We just made landfall New Zealand, so once again have access to the net. Catching up on Bronte Capital I noted your recent post "The media market has a conservative bias". I've studied the media bias issue a bit - it is surprisingly difficult to develop objective measures of bias in the straight news venues (opinion columns are obviously biased).

Most studies are based on interviewing journalists -- who surprisingly report that they may vote 90% liberal, but that certainly doesn't affect their reportage. The only study that I've encountered that uses a clever direct measurement based on the published content is this one by Groseclose & Milyo, who were at UCLA and Stanford when the paper was first published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics:

I wrote a related post back in 2005

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

There is hardly any liberal media in the United States.

There is a centrist to right of centrist media in the US, and there is a far right media in the US.

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