The cable news channels are seeing viewership declines this year over 2020, and the reason cited most often is that last year was an election year and this year is not.
Generally speaking, there is some obvious truth to that. Election years -- coming every two or four years (in the case of presidential elections) -- are very impactful for television.
Election years provide endless fodder for the cable news channels to talk about and generate heat that draws partisan audiences in numbers greater than non-election years.
And on the business side, elections -- especially divisive, hotly contested ones -- translate to millions in ad revenue from campaign commercials. Local TV stations are understandably fond of election years for this reason.
But when it comes to generating heat and the ratings that come with it -- whether in an election year or an off year -- no one in our public life was better at drawing the attention of TV news and driving news viewership than Donald J. Trump.
Sure, to many people, it was for all the wrong reasons, culminating in the rioting at the Capitol last January.
But the fact is, with Trump no longer residing in the White House and playing his outsized role as agent of chaos, TV news no longer has its biggest “star” to kick around anymore or incessantly defend (depending on each network’s point of view).
For that matter, the late-night shows have also lost their most reliable source for monologue jokes and comedy bits.
The Trump era of providing nightly talking points for the partisan cable news shows and the late-night monologues stretched from June 2015, when he descended an escalator at Trump Tower and announced he would run for president, to just this past January, when he ceded control of the White House and agreed to vacate the premises.
Even as two out of the three cable news channels -- MSNBC and CNN -- geared up to rip the Trump administration each and every night for four years, anyone who knows anything about the television business knows that despite their desire to see Trump lose the 2020 election and step down from national life, the folks at MSNBC and CNN were darn glad he was around while it lasted.
Now, TV news is in the post-Trump era that MSNBC, CNN and others were trying to bring about. It has become a case of “be careful what you wish for” because without Trump, ratings inevitably declined.
Photo of Donald Trump courtesy of CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”