October 3, 2006

Fox News Turns 10 on Top But With Growing Pains

CNN MSNBC Fox News Total
Jan. 709 344 1451 2504
Feb. 646 357 1449 2452
Mar. 685 351 1466 2502
Apr. 687 366 1412 2465
May. 670 316 1291 2277
Jun. 694 329 1340 2363
Jul. 850 341 1524 2715
Aug. 884 364 1487 2735
Sep. 787 389 1316 2492

When Fox News turns 10 on October 6th, 2006, it will have much to celebrate, but the event is punctuated by question marks. While it continues to be the highest-rated cable news channel, it is facing a tough ratings year so far in 2006.

Celebrating its anniversary in front of CNN’s Atlanta center last week, Fox News can claim to have truly transformed the cable news landscape. Since overtaking CNN to become the ratings leader in 2001 it has consistently stayed on top and now commands more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

But the network began the year in something of a slump, with average primetime viewership down each of the first five months of 2006. And its September primetime viewership fell by 171,000 – to 1.316 million from 1.487 million in August.

The September drop wasn’t completely unexpected. The month followed a summer of big events–from the war in the Middle East to the air terror threat in Britain. But it’s far steeper than the 107,000 viewers CNN lost. MSNBC actually saw a slight rise of 25,000 viewers in September.

Fox will also have to cash in on its formidable ratings success in a tougher environment than it might have hoped. For its first decade, Fox offered its programming to cable companies at a discount–asking only 25-cents per-subscriber uptil now. It now wants $1-per-subscriber from cable operators, an amount more than double CNN’s current 44 cents.

But those negotiations come at a time when many experts view the growth in cable news audience as slowing, if not ending, and the Internet is fast becoming the popular choice for breaking news. Analysts predict the negotiations may get contentious if Fox sticks to the $1 price. The test of Fox's forseeable future will be played out in how these contract negotations play out.