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The Real 'Secret' to Fox's Success

When are we going to quit being surprised and mesmerized that Fox News is wiping the floor with the rest of what passes for cable-news competition? Every week television ratings are published and written about on myriad web sites, and every week, I guess, we are supposed to act as if we are watching some sort of transformational miracle.

We aren't.

And because I am in no mood for suspense today, I'll tell you right off the top that the reason for Fox's dominance has little to do with the quality of its programming, or the way these networks occasionally cover the news, and darn near everything to do with the demographic it so adroitly serves.

There is no disputing when looking at these ratings that Fox is destroying its two (three if you count Headline News) major competitors, MSNBC and CNN. While, it is astonishing to me how far CNN has fallen over the years, I'll still argue that there is virtually nothing it, nor MSNBC, can do to truly compete with Fox News in the ratings game.

In fact, I'll make you a reasonable wager that a year from now, there will be virtually no difference in these numbers.

Fox News has overtly, even expertly, tapped into this new dimension of presenting news and programming in a partisan fashion. Simply, Fox caters to viewers who lean to the right side of the political spectrum. If you disagree with that premise, then quit reading now, because you won't agree with most of the rest of what's coming.

If you are still with me, but want to argue that other news organizations for many, many years covertly presented a more liberal slant to their news, I will listen. I believe there is some truth to that contention, and think that because Fox is seen as virtually the only conservative voice on television it owns a prized niche, and that pays off nicely in the ratings.

But it is still only a distant, secondary reason for Fox's success.

If it is agreed that Fox makes a meal of conservative views, then we'll take a look at the demographics of the 2008 presidential election in which Barack Obama trounced John McCain.

Rounding up, Obama got 53 percent of the overall vote and McCain 46 percent.

For a variety of reasons it was not a good year to be a Republican presidential candidate.

Exit polling from that election shows that Obama, not surprisingly, did well across the board. The only major age demographic he didn't win was among white voters who are 60 and older. White voters went for McCain big, 55-43 percent, while the 60-and-olders went for McCain, 51-47.

Consider, too, that while the turnout was pretty strong -- most of the major voter demographics showed an increase in turnout over the 2004 election -- only one group, non-Hispanic white voters, posted a decrease. So despite the fact McCain did fairly well among this group, less of them showed up at the polls to lend him support.

So what does all this mean? Simple. If you are retired, you are likely to be a white Republican, and you definitely have a lot of time on your hands to watch the tube.

So when you are at home and switch the TV on, chances are you are not watching MSNBC or CNN, you are tuning into Fox News, and in droves.

And let's face it, TV programming is not geared to the older generation, so it's not like these viewers have that many choices.

Most TV shows are targeted to the younger audience, which their advertisers prefer, and whom they apparently see as complete idiots, judging by the fare they offer. Or maybe that's just the view of one of the older folks they could care less about. My opinion stands, though.

Are we surprised to see that Nickelodeon is the most-watched cable channel during the day? Of course not. Moms, dads and babysitters with small ones at home are going to put on cartoons and the like, to help keep the kiddies entertained. In fact, the Cartoon Network is the seventh-rated cable channel during the day.

Fox is the fourth-rated cable choice during the day, while CNN was ranked 27th and MSNBC 32nd.

Those numbers basically carry over to the coveted primetime hours, where CNN (31) and MSNBC (25) flip-flop positions, but are still roundly thumped by Fox News, which is the No. 2 cable choice overall in the evening (the USA Network is No. 1).

By the way, Nickelodeon is not even in the top 30 at night, because the kids have gone to bed. See? Figuring this stuff out really isn't that difficult.

To some this might read as a slam on Fox. It's not meant to be. At least not this go 'round.

This time I am taking issue with the people who report and repeat these ratings as if they came tumbling down Mt. Sinai or something.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)