Q Scores Show That Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann Are Extremely Polarizing, But is That a Bad Thing?

By Alex Weprin 

ForbesJeff Bercovici analyzes the “Q Scores” for Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, and finds, not surprisingly, that they are both very polarizing figures. Q Scores use a survey to gauge awareness for prominent individuals, and then asks respondents whether they have a positive or negative opinion of them.

In Olbermann’s case, he had a positive score of about 10, and a negative score of 42. As Bercovici explains:

What’s perfectly clear is that Olbermann is less liked, and more disliked, than the typical TV newsman. The category average for TV news personalities is a positive Q of 14 and a negative Q of 29, says Levitt.

Where Olbermann has relatively few admirers, Beck is more genuinely polarizing. His positive Q of 17 is above the category average. But his negative Q of 48 is practically off the charts. Both numbers have been fairly steady over the last three surveys. What has changed is his recognition: from 38 percent in winter 2010 to 43 percent to 49 percent in the most recent study. “It’s a solid trend,”  says Levitt.

So there you have it, Olbermann and Beck are polarizing. To quote Ron Burgundy, “It’s science.”

Of course, being polarizing is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be great for business.

Unlike broadcast networks, which seek to reach as wide an audience as possible, cable channels and online networks deliberately try to appeal to niche audiences. Sometimes those audiences are broad, like “women” or “sports fans,” but most are much more specific. There are networks targeting men age18-34, there are networks targeting lovers of independent films, and yes, there are networks targeting people of very specific political persuasions.

The bottom line is that even though Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck have a lot of people that hate them, they only need a small number of people that don’t to tune in in order to be considered successes. In Olbermann’s case, getting one million people to tune into his Current TV show nightly would be considered a coup for the network.

In Beck’s case getting a few hundred thousand subscribers to his video service would likely make it more valuable than his TV show was.

That is the beauty of cable TV and the internet. Even if most of the country has no idea who you are, or doesn’t like you, you can monetize the minority that do to great success.