'Polarizing' TV -- Political Or Otherwise -- Really Means 'Engaging' TV

The Obama administration's tussle with Fox News Channel might be headed to a place where TV business and research intersect.

Fractionalized TV -- some may call it polarizing TV -- makes sense for everyone. Traditional wisdom says political parties in power should never target the press , since the press can always get the last word in, especially these days.

Some say the aim of the Obama administration is to transform those in the minority (in this case those who voted for McCain, the losing Republican candidate) into a fringe-like group. If some seem like they are on the periphery, that's good for the White House.

For Fox, it's also a benefit. "Fringe" status also means more engaged viewers. That means they'll have higher recall when it comes to advertisers' ads. In TV terms, this is what most marketers want: consumers who, to use a more colloquial term, are passionate.



Other may argue Fox News isn't fringe. Fox is easily the leader in TV news programming on a daily basis -- with two to three million average viewers a night in prime time. But this is a fraction of what network TV news shows did years ago. And, looking at the average viewership versus the whole voting electorate, it's a tiny piece.

Having a passionate viewership works for today's age of fractionalization Recent stories in The New Yorker talk about how current TV news operations are unlike those in the past, which tried to provide some balance, as well as a broader and bigger viewership.

One article notes that  today's Democrats' strong opinions on changing health care tend to get even stronger after talking to or seeing other like-minded Democrats -- say, on MSNBC.

When Republicans want to grouse that President Obama is fast bankrupting the country with big federal spending supporting failing industries, they become more adamant when talking to  or seeing other Republicans voice the same concerns --say, on Fox News.

But polarizing TV has a problem. People can lose sight of the facts, focusing instead on opinions spouted by overdramatic, attention-grabbing opinion-meisters.

Here's the good news for a polarizing, fractionalized TV world: You don't need to get everyone in your tent to make a buck, just the right people. Polarizing TV also means more engaged advocates for a cause, likely to contribute to increased word-of-mouth marketing.

It's not as clear what TV polarization means as the end game for political parties. One thing's for sure: Fox News and MSNBC are making more money than ever.

2 comments about "'Polarizing' TV -- Political Or Otherwise -- Really Means 'Engaging' TV".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., November 18, 2009 at 12:48 p.m.

    We've kinda figured this out. Wait'll you see what's coming in ther next few months from our shop. "Polarizing" doesn't even begin to describe what you can do without the FCC staring over your shoulder - and really, who cares? This is WEBcasting, not, uh, "TV" (although I'm certain many will prefer this to TV). Remember: A Paid Hulu is a Dead Hulu.

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, November 18, 2009 at 1:39 p.m.

    Thought provoking as always. I would just add that while it's not the point of the piece, the White House may have targeted FNC to spur fundraising. Mickey Kaus, who blogs on, has posited the fundraising motivation and his logic is pretty compelling (though, obviously, as with all the other speculated motivations, can't be proved).

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