Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC – RIP? If you are like half the American people, you may have already cut the cord on cable television. A recent estimate from Samba TV said that 52 percent of those surveyed have decided not to subscribe to cable television services. This raises the question about the future of cable news. What about the business model for Fox News, MSNBC, CNN?
Are these media outlets doomed as they lose overall cable subscribers?
I’m a Cable Cutter
I cut the cord last year and I still miss watching Fox News, so instead, I use Fox News Digital on my phone and there is one daily video clip from Fox’s prime time lineup each day on the mobile app. This is enough to give me a taste of programming that I would normally watch on cable before I canceled DirecTV.
One would hypothesize that fewer eyeballs would mean less revenue for cable news outlets. I’ll analyze that data for you in this article because it paints a murky picture. It is not clear if these news organizations have a concrete path toward sustainability as more viewers focus on streaming services instead of traditional cable.
Fox News Has a Streaming Service For ‘Premium Content’
Fox has a streaming option called Fox Nation which allows you to pay only $5.99 a month for access to special shows from hosts, documentaries, and longer-form interviews. But that’s another monthly bill, and if you already have subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max, which I do, there is little incentive to take on more monthly payments.
Plus – and this is big – Fox Nation does not give you access to the live feed of Fox News.
Fubo TV Is Expensive Too
Another option is Fubo TV, which is a streaming service akin to cable that gives you access to many of the channels you would expect from cable providers such as DirectTV, Dish Network, and Xfinity TV.
There is Fox News, MSNBC, and Newsmax, but no CNN on Fubo TV. Fubo is a surprising $74.99 a month for the cheapest package. That defeats the purpose of cutting the cord. DirecTV has a steraming platform costs $84.99 a month for a group of similar channels, so you might as well keep cable.
Strong Eight-Year Growth Trend for Big Three
With fewer people available to watch cable news, you would think that advertising revenue for the big three cable news networks would be trending downward.
Not so fast. Pew Research studied ad revenue growth from 2012 to 2020 and found that there was ample expansion. For example, CNN ad revenue went up 91.7 percent in those eight years. MSNBC grew a whopping 176.9 percent and Fox went up only 60.3 percent from 2012 to 2020. So, it seems that revenue was strong for the big three, at least in that eight year sample ending in 2020.
Fox News Takes the Lead in Gross Ad Revenue
When you look at gross ad revenue, the statistics tell a similar story, but this time Fox News is in the lead. Variety estimated that in 2020, the last presidential election year, gross sales at Fox were $1.32 billion. Ad revenue totaled $773.1 million for CNN and $723.1 million for MSNBC. It appears Donald Trump and Joe Biden were good for business.
But Viewership Is Down for CNN and MSNBC in 2022
But in 2022, ratings have flopped for CNN and MSNBC. There are simply fewer people watching. According to Forbes and Variety, CNN was down 34 percent in viewers from 2021 and MSNBC lost 22 percent of its viewers. Fox News remained nearly the same having continued to reach over 2 million people while CNN had only 735,000 prime-time viewers and MSNBC attracted 1.2 million people to its nightly programs.
Should Cable News Go With Streaming?
So, the viewership statistics paint a mixed picture. From 2012 to 2020, cable news networks were doing well. However, by 2022, CNN and MSNBC started struggling, while Fox News added programming to its streamer Fox Nation and retained its viewers. That may be the answer for cable news, lean toward a streaming service in addition to appearing on DirecTV and Dish Network and other cable providers.
CNN Plus Streamer Dies Quick Death
However, CNN tried this with CNN Plus. The short-lived streaming service was canceled less than a month after it started. CNN Plus needed two million subscribers to break even in the first year, but only 150,000 people signed up, so the higher-ups pulled the plug on the entire project since it had already spent $400 million on the streaming service.
Fox Nation on the other hand, began in 2018 so it had a head start on CNN Plus. It appears that Fox News is the strongest cable network and CNN and MSNBC are struggling with growth. The data does not show that this is because of cable cutting, but fewer cable subscribers overall does not bode well for CNN and MSNBC. The three networks will continue to fight over eyeballs and if the cord cutting trend continues, they may have to make changes to their business models to remain relevant.
Author Expertise and Experience
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.