The truth about Glenn Beck's TV ratings: They're down, a lot

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

I'm not surprised Glenn Beck is kind of freaking out over the fact that Media Matters continues to remind people that the Fox News host's ratings are swooning in 2010, and that he's lost one-third of his audience this year, as well as hit a couple low-water marks on the Nielsen scorecard. I'm not surprised he's taking it personally and lashing out because Beck is, at heart, a radio guy and radio guys are wired when it comes to ratings. Ratings are how they judge people and how they themselves are judged. ("Great spring book!")

So I'm sure it's painful for Beck to see the numbers go down, to know that people are noting the precipitous drop, and there's no doubt a mounting fear that people are judging him because of his sliding Nielsen numbers. And so yes, that's why he's been spinning the story pretty hard.

Here's Beck from May 3:

I get it. However, I also understand that the Nielsen numbers don't lie. But after watching Beck last night talk about his ratings, I'm pretty sure he does. Or at least that Beck likes to play loose with the numbers.

Beck, from last night's Fox News show [emphasis added]:

It was Media Matters, by the way, who first started the lie that we could read in, I think, the LA Times and then The Washington Post ... the little story came from Media Matters that my ratings were down on this program. Well, now we can tell you 'cause the official ratings are out, May to May, and it's weird. They're down so far that they are actually up 22 percent. Sounds like a smear campaign with no facts at all.

Trust me, if my claim that Beck had lost one-third of his audience this year was a fact-free smear campaign, Fox News would have buried Media Matters, as well as every TV industry reporter and blogger, in a blizzard of press releases detailing exactly how Beck's ratings were not down -- they were up! Fox News, like every major cable outfit, has an entire division of its communications/research team that does nothing but churn out press releases to prove just how amazing and fantastic its ratings are.

But I wrote a story detailing how Beck's ratings were down 33 percent this year, and the story, as Beck mentioned, was widely circulated and got picked up in the press -- yet it was crickets from Fox News. The pushback, aside from Beck's own mini-temper tantrums, was non-existent. Nada. Zilch.

Why? Because the numbers don't lie. Beck can go on TV every night and repeat "George Soros" 25 times if he wants (or however else he thinks he's going to cast doubt on Media Matters with his viewers), but that's not going to change the Nielsen numbers. And guess what? Glenn Beck has lost one-third of its TV audience since January. Even though he's supposed to be the all-powerful media leader of a political revolution.

But let's take a closer look at Beck's claim about his May-to-May ratings. Is it true? Is Glenn Beck up 22 percent, as he host seemed to suggest last night?

Not really. Because what Beck does in order to produce that 22 percent jump is take the first two-plus weeks of ratings for May 2010 -- when Glenn Beck only appears Monday through Friday -- and compares them to the first two-plus weeks of May 2009 -- when Beck's show appeared Monday through Saturday, and when his Saturday show recorded ratings significantly lower than his weekday shows. In other words, Beck is cooking the books. The May 2009 ratings are weighed down by his dismal Saturday numbers, which means that when compared with Saturday-less May ratings from 2010, the 2010 numbers look better. In this case, 22 percent better.

What if you factored out the poorly rated Saturday shows from May 2009? In that scenario, Beck's audience has grown more like 8 percent, May-to-May.

And I mean, c'mon, could Beck have picked a smaller window of ratings (two weeks in May?) to focus on in order to manufacture an increase? So no, that modest May boost doesn't mean Glenn Beck is flying high. Moreover, if you look at the ratings for an April-to-April comparison, those numbers were down:

Interestingly, for the first time since he debuted on Fox News, Glenn Beck did not grow year-over-year: in fact, his show was down 7% in total viewers and 6% in the [age 25-54] demo.

And I return to my central point, which Beck refuses to acknowledge: Since the beginning of this year Glenn Beck ratings are off by one-third. Think about that for a minute.

Think about all the magazine covers, the massive amount of media coverage and free publicity that Beck generated over the past 12 months. Think about the fact that Beck is supposed to be at the forefront -- the media point person -- for a burgeoning political, right-wing revolution that's unfolding across the country. Beck is the anointed leader of the almighty Tea Party movement. And what does he have to show for it one year later in a nation of 300 million people? About 100,000 more television viewers.


Meanwhile, by stressing the May-to-May comparison, Beck is probably hoping people just skip over what happened rating-wise during the months in-between. And what happened was that Glenn Beck did blow up as a ratings phenomena, there's no denying that. And that Nielsen peak was reached in late January and early February when the showed averaged nearly three million viewers each night. And even for the months surrounding that, Glenn Beck routinely drew in 2.5 million viewers.

But since then? Well since then Beck has basically lost all the new viewers he picked up over the last twelve months (blame it on the Massa Moment?), which is why in May of 2010, he's pretty much back where he started in May of 2009. After twelve months of hype, Beck has not significantly grown his TV audience.

And that fact, he just can't spin.

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