Where do high-flying cable TV news networks go from here -- in terms of viewership and advertising revenue?
Recent news-grabbing federal indictments of former Trump campaign officials will continue to amp up viewership -- with more indictments possibly to come.
Cable TV news networks have been virtually the only TV networks to see regular overall growth of viewership for the better part of 12 months now.
In the third quarter of this year, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN were ranked first (1.15 million), second (843,000) and fourth place (700,000), respectively, looking at total-day programming viewership.
But things might be changing.
Standard Media Index, the media advertising research company that compiles data from major media agency billing systems, said Fox News witnessed a somewhat eye-opening 17% drop in advertising in September from the same month the year before.
One media analyst tells TV Watch this makes sense. The previous September -- in the thick of the presidential election race -- the network witnessed a plethora of political advertising from super PACs and other political messaging. Now, a year later, that money has disappeared.
Key here is that SMI typically get its data from almost all major national TV media agencies, representing 80% of U.S. media buying. But SMI doesn’t focus on smaller, specialized media agencies that political advertisers typically use to handle its media-buying efforts.
Big ad gains for TV stations and networks make sense in major political years. In addition, this can drive up all advertising rates.
While political candidates are guaranteed the lowest available advertising rate, according to federal regulations, super PACs have to pay what the market will bear. That drives up pricing, and ultimately overall advertising volume.
What perhaps might be a head-scratcher is that SMI also reported that CNN and MSNBC had somewhat different results in September 2017 versus Fox. CNN was virtually flat -- a small decrease of 1% in advertising revenue -- while MSNBC added 2% in advertising revenues.
The answer is that Fox has to deal with greater unfavorable comparisons than CNN and MSNBC.
For example, SMI says in this past September, Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” pulled in $12,200 a spot; “Hannity’” got $8,500 a spot. This compares to an average $31,300 for a 30-second commercial that those shows received during the September 2016 presidential debate.
Fox's prime-time shows are still ahead of its competition in this regard. For example. the average unit price per spot on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” higher than a year ago, now averages $4,600 and $3,700 for a 30-second spot, respectively.
Perhaps all these revenue performances are just stuck in neutral.
Big political marketers -- superPacs and other interested parties -- may look to spend more on TV news networks in the coming months to take advantage of viewership gains.
This political reality TV business story has only just started.