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February 20, 2018

Americans Triple Their Political News Intake in 2016

News media have been big winners in the Presidential election so far. Ravenous for news of each twist and turn of the campaign, Americans have almost tripled the amount of time they are spending consuming digitally distributed political news.

Three years ago – in the far less political year of 2013 — political news accounted for 816 million monthly minutes of usage, according to Comscore. In February, 2016, it accounted for 2.364 billion minutes – almost a tripling. February has been a high-water mark, but political news hit one billion minutes in June of 2015 and has grown steadily since.

POLITICO pointed out (“New media players seek to make their mark on the 2016 campaign”) how the Gawkers, Mics and FiveThirtyEights were salivating at the political traffic of these Trumpoid times. While all those plying the political news trade have enjoyed a boom, it is the three cable TV news channels that can point to outsize success.

Today, CNN Politics, Fox News Politics and MSNBC TV grab 58% of all time spent on political news, as measured by Comscore. One year ago, that number stood at only 36%. So, in addition to their big TV ratings and advertising success, add in digital abundance.


First published at Politico Media

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It’s important to note that Comscore’s calculations don’t include all the major political news players.

“It’s at the discretion of publishers as to what level of reporting detail they want to break out. Some publishers do very detailed content channel breakouts, others do not,” Comscore’s Andrew Lipsman told me. So The New York Times and The Washington Post, for instance, are not specifically included in Comscore’s “News/Information – Politics” category. Still, the data is directionally valuable, and we can conclude that those not included have also enjoyed big traffic benefits.

Those top three cable TV networks — CNN Politics, Fox News Politics and MSNBC TV, in order — head up the most time spent on political news. Also, included in the Top 10, in order: POLITICO, HuffPost Politics, RealClearPolitics, Yahoo Politics, Salon.com., Newsmax.com sites and Bloomberg.com Politics.

In fact, those top 10 could claim 90% of total time spent on political news — again as measured by those publishers participating — in February, 2016. One year earlier, the same top 10 received only 67% of all time spent. It’s clear that these sites’ non-stop focus on political news has paid off in traffic. One big question: How well has it paid off in ad revenue, especially since much of the growth is on the smartphone, which many publishers have had a hard time monetizing?

Further, Comscore data shows that “those outside the Top 10 have seen engagement levels remain more or less consistent over time, whereas the Top 10 is where the category growth is coming from,” said Lipsman.

On the web, disproportionate benefit accrues, as always, to the biggest players.

Further, let’s consider that the boom could precede a bust.

As the 2016 concludes — finally — with an election, how much appetite will there be for political news in election-less 2017? News sites will have tough comparables to meet, and they likely won’t, paralleling the boom-and-bust cycle the TV industry sees in election/non-election years. The current reckoning we now see in digital news startups (“Newsonomics: With new roadblocks for digital news sites, what happens next?”) will likely only be made worse by a slackening of political news interest.

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