For the past 11 months, the presidential campaign has provided must-see reality television (last night’s election coverage alone was watched by 71.4 million people; evidently everyone else went to High School Musical 3) and fuelled ratings upswings for SNL, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. So now that the race is over, the cable news networks are wondering how they’ll retain viewers’ interest when they return to regularly scheduled programming. Spoiler alert: media analysts don’t think they’ll be able to do it, but that’s not creating any major “change” in the nets’ lineups.
Forbes: “It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue the media momentum to the degree that cable news networks have enjoyed in this historic election cycle,” says John Rash, director of media analysis at advertising agency Campbell Mithun.
Horizon Media Research Director Brad Adgate agrees, predicting the cable networks will likely return to pre-campaign numbers post-election: “For a lot of viewers,” he says, “there will be some sense of relief when this is over.”
Thus far this year, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC collectively posted audience gains of 49% over the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Prime-time ratings for General Electric (nyse: GE – news – people )-owned MSNBC rose to 850,000 viewers on average, a 70% year-over-year gain. Time Warner (nyse: TWX – news – people )-owned CNN jumped 66% during the same period to 1.3 million viewers. And News Corp. (nyse: NWS – news – people )-owned Fox News, which still boasts the highest ratings of the three, registered a 36% spike to an average viewership of 2 million.
It’s added up to big advertising dollars as well, proving a bright spot in an otherwise bleak marketplace. Research firm SNL Kagan expects Fox News’ net advertising revenue will round out the year at $539 million, up 17% year over year. At MSNBC and CNN, net ad revenue will rise 12% and 10% to $154 million and $477 million, respectively.
None of them looks likely to alter that profitable formula much after Tuesday, though the loss of some viewers–and advertisers looking to reach them–is inevitable. With the exception of Fox News’ previously announced addition of conservative news personality Glenn Beck to its lineup this coming spring, the three cable outlets intend to maintain their same stable of anchors and hosts post-election.
And going gently into that good night along with election coverage, is Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin imitation. She’s retiring it.
EW: “I have to retire just because I have to do my day job,” reveals the creator and star of NBC’s 30 Rock (which experienced a 20 per cent ratings uptick for its Oct. 30 season premiere). “I think [Kristen] Wiig would do a really good job.” As for whether there’ll be an official Palin torch passing, she says, “Maybe we could get a real torch. Or I could give Wiig the Palin wig.”
Hopefully, the real Sarah Palin will disappear from national TV as well.
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