Pew State of The News Media 2011: Cable News Ratings Down, But Revenues Up

By Alex Weprin Comment

The world of cable news was healthy financially, even as ratings slipped from 2010, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism 2011 “State of the Media” report, which was released today.

The PEJ report on cable news channels is worth reading in full, but here are some of the key takeaways.

The biggest takeaway is that while ratings were down across the board in 2010 for the big three cable news channels, revenues and profits were up.

Compere this chart showing overall primetime viewers for the channels:

To this one showing profits at the channels:

The PEJ study notes that the economic health of the channels can be attributed in large part to the cable carriage fees, which account for approximately half of all revenue.

The study also looked at the total news investment among the three networks, and found that for the first time, Fox News Channel spent more money on news than CNN. Both spent a shade under $700 million in 2010, but FNC edged out CNN.

Of course, where those resources are spent are quite different. CNN has more domestic bureaus than either FNC or MSNBC, and more foreign bureaus than both of its competitors combined. That said, MSNBC also shares its operations with NBC News, which does have wide reach, so it can afford to not spend as much on newsgathering.

As for the business networks, it is mostly the status quo, with CNBC dominating both Bloomberg and Fox Business Network in revenues and profits. Because they are not officially rated by Nielsen, we do not have a sense of how the other networks compete with CNBC in the ratings.

FBN is expected to break even by 2012, the PEJ study notes.

Check out the essay on the state of cable news in 2010 here, and the data set here.