Fox News' website lags rival CNN.com

Some wonder if traffic gap could undermine FNC influence

Is CNN better prepared for the digital future than rival Fox News Channel?

In the cable TV news world, FNC is a force to be reckoned with. So why does the network continually get its digital clock cleaned -- by CNN, of all rivals?

On the tube, Fox's ratings are so dominant that CNN is turning to prostitution-tarred former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to revive its primetime lineup. In fact, Fox host Bill O'Reilly recently suggested that rival news nets are all but irrelevant, saying, "If you want to know what's really happening in America, you have to come here."

But with millions of Americans turning to the Web for more of their news on a more frequent and immediate basis, can that assessment be true?

FoxNews.com averages about 12 million-13 million monthly unique users, according to Nielsen Online, consistently fewer than CNN by 7 million-8 million uniques. ComScore data shows the gap is even larger: 43.4 million uniques for CNN.com in June vs. 11.4 million for FoxNews.com. Plus, CNN.com regularly bests FoxNews.com in measures like page views, time spent and video streams -- and it has opened an early lead in mobile (14 million uniques vs. 9 million in May for Fox, per Nielsen).

Those numbers have led some to wonder whether Fox's lack of digital success could undermine its influence in American news, particularly as a younger generation gravitates toward getting its headlines online.

There are numerous theories as to why Fox lags so far behind online (executives declined comment for this report). Longtime CNN.com producer Mitch Gelman, now vp quality at Examiner.com, contends that it's a simple question of quality. "CNN's online service has been and continues to be better than Fox's," he said.

The other often-floated theory/stereotype is that Fox News viewers are geezers who barely use dial-up. But according to Nielsen, the median age for CNN this year is 63 vs. 64 for Fox News. However, Fox News' audience is composed of significantly higher percentages of the 45-plus and 65-plus demos.

But many believe age doesn't explain the Web audience gap because CNN.com draws many millions of news users that never watch the TV network.

"You can't get 30 million or 40 million unique users by speaking to one particular political ideology," said KC Estenson, CNN.com's senior vp-GM. "When people want to know what is going on in the world, they come to us."

But given Fox's huge ratings advantage and FoxNews.com's users satisfaction scores, why isn't the site bigger? Some theorize that what makes Fox so successful on TV doesn't actually work on the Internet. "People shouting at each other doesn't translate to a mass audience online," Estenson said.

"Fox News is theater," said Shelly Palmer, managing director of Advanced Media Ventures Group and host of the daily Web series MediaBytes. "But their site is straight news. In a funny way, it needs to be less CNN.com and more Fox."
comments powered by Disqus