CNN tells its website staff: ‘Take some cues from Fox News’

Television viewing habits are rapidly changing and the cable news channels' days of dominance in the boob tube infowar delivered on aging electronic platforms supplied by cable and satellite providers are numbered.  With many cable news subscribers cutting the cord and migrating to newer options like smartphones and Roku, trendier digital platforms — in other words, websites that are optimized for small touch screen devices including tablets — are now emerging as the latest battleground for viewers' eyeballs.

A lengthy, eye-opening analysis on the emerging contest for online dominance by two of the leading cable news providers, CNN and the Fox News channel (FNC), was published in The Daily Beast on July 10.  According to the story, CNN is in the process of radically shaking up its venerable website  The article's title is surprisingly revealing: "CNN Tells Digital Staff: Take Some Cues from Fox News."

Fox News is already beating CNN on TV. Now, to ensure the conservative news network doesn't start winning online, CNN wants to make sure its employees know what stories Fox News is writing about. 

In recent months, CNN's newly revamped audience development team has begun highlighting the top daily stories people are searching for online in a widely seen company Slack messaging channel. The network has begun placing small fox emojis next to stories the right-leaning cable outlet covered online that CNN missed. 

Who would have thought? There is a supreme irony here.  For years now, CNN has made dissing FNC and its on-camera hosts and personnel one of the aging channel's most prominent, ongoing "news" story threads and topics for echo-chamber panel discussions on its prime-time opinion shows.  The level of enmity shown by CNN hosts and reporters for FNC at times has known few bounds.  (CNN has even openly collaborated with über-left Soros-funded Media Matters for America in aiming figurative "kill shots" at FNC, including employing tactics like advertiser boycotts.)

CNN screen grab.

The cable television news wars, which kicked off in 1996 when MSNBC and the Fox News Channel both launched in an attempt to challenge already well established CNN, went from cold to hot in 2017.  The rise to power of Donald J. Trump that year as Fox News was dealing with major prime time schedule changes for a time presented a major challenge to FNC's commanding, 15-year-long lead in the ratings.  FNC eventually righted itself, and things have settled down recently in the wake of the release of the Mueller Report, which clearly took its toll on left-wing viewership.  The de facto exoneration of President Trump for collusion with the Russians depressed both MSNBC's and CNN's numbers, and Fox News post-Mueller is enjoying a comfortable lead once again.

The battle between CNN and Fox News continues to rage online, however.  Website metrics are even more difficult to fathom than the minutiae of cable news TV ratings, the exclusive province of Nielsen Media Research which has been at it since the dawn of commercial television 70 years ago.

Tea leaf reading and the art of spin come into play heavily when evaluating both TV ratings and who is on top on the internet.  There is no question, however, that the Fox News channel currently rules the television ratings roost.  An FNC news release from last month makes the case:

Fox News Channel attracted more prime-time viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined last week, adding to its streak as the most-watched basic cable network.

Fox News averaged 2.3 million viewers during the hours of 8-11 p.m. ET from June 10-16, while MSNBC finished second with an average of 1.5 million. HGTV, A&E and USA joined them among the top five, while CNN averaged just 744,000 to finish 14th.

Over at CNN, news releases relating to "ratings" are reduced to crowing about CNN's purported wins over MSNBC in certain metric slices.  Its two latest releases, for example, are titled "CNN Tops MSNBC in Q2 in Demo for 21st Straight Quarter Despite Democratic Debates on MSNBC" and "CNN Tops MSNBC in Total Day, Dayside & on Weekends in Key Demo in May."

Fox News homepage top July 11, 2019.

In the battle for digital, Alexa dot com, an company that ranks websites according to "Competitive Analysis, Marketing Mix and Traffic," has ahead of — until you take a closer look.  Fox News's site, according to Alexa, is ranked #53 of all websites in the U.S., and CNN's is #24.  But drilling down, the average visitor to CNN's site visits 2.21 pages and stays at the site for 4 minutes and 10 seconds.  Fox News dot com's typical visitor spends 6 minutes and 4 seconds on the site and visits 3.02 pages.  According to these measurements, Fox's site is keeping its visitors 50% longer, looking at 50% more pages than CNN's.

Another frequently cited ranking site, SimilarWeb, on July 11 had Fox News dot com ahead of CNN, as the 25th most visited website in the U.S. to #29 for CNN.

In a June 17 news release, Fox News Media Relations cites stats from Comscore Media Metrix® Multi-Platform May 2019 in claiming "FOX News Digital Surpasses in Multi-Platform Total Views and Minutes for Month of May."  These releases and data drops are interesting reading — if one has a head for and an interest in statistics.

The simple bottom line here — and the Daily Beast article examines these developments in some depth — is that the online cable news wars are heating up, and already there are some curious twists.  It will be interesting to see how it goes and who wins on this new playing field.

Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  Peter's website is  Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.

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