Fox News Channel is looking to get more tech-savvy.
If you've watched the network's election coverage in recent weeks, you might have noticed that, beginning with the Iowa Caucuses and appearing again during the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, FNC's election-night anchors made use of a graphic on set that displayed what people were googling as voters went to the polls . It's designed to be a sort of real-time barometer of what issues and which candidates voters are thinking about as they make their primary or caucus decisions. "Google has a huge database and the number of searches for a given candidate parallels closely their choices [in primary voting]," said John Roberts, Fox's chief national correspondent. "It's not a scientific indication of how people may vote, but it's an indication of what people are thinking about and the intensity with which they are thinking it."
The Google integration comes just as parent company News Corp. plans to bring Fox News programming to a variety of new Web and mobile outlets—including Xbox, starting some time next month. It's all part of a technological push meant to broaden out the network's appeal, in part to younger demos.
"One of the goals is diversifying the audience," said Jeff Misenti, vp of Fox News Digital. "I think the demo we’re talking about [with the recent digital integrations] is younger. It's the next generation of Fox News audience." So, for example, with News Corp.'s recently-announced Xbox partnership, the goal is to court "the kids of the parents who are watching Fox News," said Misenti. "They should have more than just a sport experience available to them there. If they're interested in what their parents are watching in the other room, they should have that experience well."
As a genre, news tends to skews older. CNN's median viewer is 63, MSNBC's is 59 and the CBS Evening News has a median audience age of 61. But Fox News audience members tend to be older even among it's peers: the median age of its viewers is around 65.
The fact doesn't adversely affect its standing in the cable news ecosystem. The network consistently outperforms CNN and MSNBC in viewership and in its New Hampshire primary coverage, pulled in 2.2 million total viewers in prime time, compared to CNN's 1.1 million and MSNBC's 1.06 million. In the key 25-54 demographic, Fox News saw 550,000 in primetime during that primary, where CNN brought in 401,000 viewers and MSNBC 240,000. But as Aaron Cohen, a buyer at media agency Horizon Media put it, "News has to continuously work to keep its audience young." Cohen added that "if you combine those [technological offerings] it may have the net effect of creating a total younger audience."
Fox, of course, isn't the only network that has been looking to integrate technology into its on air coverage or extend their programming beyond linear television. CNN was the first news network to offer its television programming online and on mobile devices, and they're well-known for integrating a variety of experimental tech into their coverage. That includes a feature unveiled during the network's caucus coverage that allowed CNN hosts to gauge voter sentiment by what they were talking about on social networks like Twitter.
A spokesperson for CNN said that while these efforts are not designed solely to age down their audiences, "that has certainly been the result." MSNBC, for its part, has been lighter on the on-air technology integrations and has not announced plans to bring the linear programming to devices beyond the traditional set-top cable or satellite box. "We think younger viewers are attracted to our hosts and shows," said a spokesperson for MSNBC.
Sources at CNN and Fox are careful to point out that the goal of these initiatives is to cast a wide net to attract all sorts of audience members, not just younger viewers. In a modern age in which video is increasingly available on a variety of outlets, partnering with companies like Google, Xbox and Twitter can be a matter of survival.
"It's about going where the audience is," said David Banks, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. But there's no question age is certainly part of the consideration—and for an older-skewing TV genre, an undeniable benefit. "Is our primary objective to force the demo lower? No, that's a misnomer" Fox News' Misenti said. "But I think the demo for [this technology] is younger. This is the next generation of our audience. We want to appeal to people who adopt technology."