Many Americans may be thrilled that the election is finally over, but there’s one group that almost certainly won’t be: political journalists at CNN and elsewhere.
During a time of retrenchment across the media industry, Campaign 2016 has been a shot in the arm for CNN, MSNBC, Politico and any other network or website that traffics in scoops about the latest Donald Trump accuser or Hillary Clinton email. The cable news networks, for example, have posted double — and in some cases triple-digit — gains in viewers this year compared to 2015.
The end of this legendarily nasty (and newsy) election cycle is unlikely to cheer anyone who writes headlines for a living. That’s especially true since the winner was Trump, a indefatigable critic of reporters he doesn’t like. But it was inevitable that the bubble had to burst.
“There’s massive news-watching fatigue,” Tom Nunan, a TV and movie producer and lecturer at the UCLA Department of Film, Television and Digital Media, said. “I really think people are going to take a break until the inauguration.”
Well, perhaps not all people. But the kind of growth seen this year was simply not sustainable.
Just check out CNN, which has seen a broad resurgence under boss Jeff Zucker. In October, the cable news network was up a stunning 95 percent in prime time to 1.9 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. MSNBC saw a 160 percent hike to 1.7 million.
Even No. 1 Fox News, which tends to be less dependent on breaking news for its ratings, was up 72 percent, to 3.1 million.
The growth extends to politics-heavy websites as well. In September, Politico logged 20.2 million unique visitors, according to comScore, a 104 percent increase over the same period last year.
The New York Times’ website drew 88.8 million uniques, for a 33.5 percent rise.
One possible silver lining for the media did not materialize. If Clinton had won, Fox News probably would have gotten a long-lasting bump, as her detractors looked for support on the airwaves.
“Fox News — whenever there’s a Democrat in the White House — always enjoys a surge,” Nunan said. “It’s really the only place [Republicans] can get their comfort food.” But with Trump the victor, conservatives are unlikely to feel as urgent a need to gather in front of a Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.
In fact — barring some real histrionics in the first 100 days of the Trump administration — the comedown will likely be dramatic for media organizations.
“I think you can anticipate a pretty precipitous … drop,” Nunan said.