Not long ago, I was having a fun and engaging dinner debate about politics with our neighbors across the street. I love those kinds of conversations — I grew up in a household where dinner talk was about history, religion and politics, so having spirited debates with friends is one of my favorite things to do.
At one point during the conversation, one of the guests made the oft-quoted statement that, “The airwaves are dominated by the liberal media.” It’s something I’ve heard dozens or perhaps hundreds of times in my life. I took his comment to mean that liberal programs on MSNBC, National Public Radio and others reach more people than conservative programs on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others.
Since that claim has to do with ratings and since ratings have to do with marketing (which is our focus), I put a member of the 60 Second Marketer team named Shenaz Lilywala to work on an important assignment. I asked her to do an analysis of the ratings to see if, in fact, the airwaves are dominated by the liberal media, as is commonly stated.
Methodology Behind the Research
It’s worth noting that I’ve voted for Republicans about as many times as I’ve voted for Democrats, so I have no agenda in this research other than to find out if, in fact, it’s true that the airwaves are dominated by the liberal media.
To find the answer, our team sat down and crunched numbers to get to the heart of the matter. Our first goal was to divide the different networks and programs into two buckets — conservative and liberal.
Dropping Fox News into the conservative bucket and MSNBC into the liberal bucket was pretty easy. And, while some people might consider CNN a centrist network, we decided to put CNN and other similar networks into the liberal bucket.
We also dropped the network news shows including CBS News, ABC News and NBC News into the liberal bucket.
From there, we used the average weekly primetime viewership during the month of January 2014 to arrive at the viewership numbers for the cable news channels such as Fox and CNN. For the broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), we took the data from the 19 weeks leading up to the week of February 2nd, 2014 to arrive at an average weekly viewership for their programs.
Then, we did the same thing with talk radio. According to Talkers.com, conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck have massive audiences totaling more than 30 million listeners per week. Poor Alan Colmes only has 1.75 million weekly listeners, but when you include the liberal leaning NPR into the mix, which has 27 million weekly listeners, the landscape levels out somewhat.
In the end, our buckets broke down along these lines:
Conservative — Fox News, Fox Business News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and others.
Liberal — MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, NPR, Alan Colmess and others.
When it comes to the broadcast networks, the liberal news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC have 32.8 million viewers compared to the 8.5 million who watch the Fox broadcast network (not to be confused with Fox News, the cable network). So that kicks things off with data that swings in favor of the liberals dominating the airwaves.
On the cable networks, the average weekly viewership on conservative networks such as Fox News and Fox Business News is 12.9 million vs. the 9.6 million who watch liberal networks such as MSNBC. That swings slightly in favor of the conservatives, but not by much.
How about radio audiences? There are about 30 talk radio hosts who dominate the airwaves. When you take a look at all of the top radio talk shows, 80% are conservative and 20% are liberal. Of those, the top two — Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity — get about 13 to 14 million listeners per week.
But don’t forget — we have to include NPR in our calculation. Even though NPR does not have a single, designated talk show host behind its programming, it does have a liberal voice behind the entire network, so we included their 27 million weekly listeners into our calculations.
How does this all add up? You might be surprised by the numbers. As you can see in the chart below, the liberals do not dominate the airwaves. In fact, it’s the opposite — when you add up the weekly viewership on broadcast news plus the weekly prime time viewership of cable news plus the weekly audiences of the top radio talk shows, the pendulum swings heavily in favor of the conservatives dominating the airwaves.
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The Bottom Line
One of the things we’re trying to do at the 60 Second Marketer is to take commonly-held assumptions and see if they hold up when marketing science is applied to them. We did that not to long ago when we exposed the fact that Facebook ads don’t work for the majority of companies that use them. And we’re doing it today when we’re providing a research study indicating that, contrary to popular belief, the liberals do not dominate the airwaves. In fact, the opposite is true — it’s the conservatives who dominate the airwaves.
We’re excited about this finding, which will probably generate some controversy, so let the debates begin in our comments section below.
About the Author: Jamie Turner is the CEO of the 60 Second Marketer and 60 Second Communications, a marketing communications firm that helps businesses get more bang for their marketing dollar. He is the co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile” and is a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.