Pew State of the News Media 2012: Cable Ratings, Revenues Improve, Even as Cord-Cutting Looms

By Alex Weprin 

It was a strong year for cable news in 2011, even as threats to its very existence begin to appear on the periphery, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism 2012 report. The report notes that overall, ratings and revenues were up among all of the cable news channels last year, though it gets a little murky once you start digging into the data.

CNN and MSNBC saw their viewership rise last year, while Fox News and HLN were down a bit. That said, all of the networks saw healthy increases in revenue, thanks to increased ad revenue as well as higher subscriber fees:

Pew also notes the ever-increasing threat of “cord-cutting.” While it is yet to become widespread, the incessant push to increase fees from cable operators results in cable bills that rise every year, often well above the rate of inflation. As online alternatives become more robust, the threat of cord-cutting becomes more problematic for all cable channels, including cable news:

But another survey suggested cancellations may be looming in the near future. That survey, conducted in August by Credit Suisse, found that 25% of pay TV customers plan to cancel their service in the next five years, citing the declining value of that service to them. About 4% of subscribers say they plan to cancel in the next 12 months. The same survey found that 25% of consumers subscribe to or use an ‘‘over-the-top’’ video service like Hulu or Netflix. Half of those said they use these services as a substitute for pay TV.

Even if subscriptions are not entirely dropped, a close look at consumer behavior for television raises other concerns. The June 2011 Nielsen study found that older viewers spent more time than other younger ones watching traditional television.

Pew also looked at news investment, and found that while Fox News Channel will widen its lead over CNN in terms of spending. That said, what FNC spends its money on is very different than what CNN spends its money on:

Most of FNC’s spending is on individual programs, as opposed to CNN, which spends most of its money on general administrative costs, such as news bureaus. CNN has more domestic news bureaus than either FNC or MSNBC, and more foreign news bureaus than both channels combined.

Read the rest of Pew’s cable analysis here.