Is Glenn Beck losing his mojo?
The controversial talking head still has the highest rated show on cable news at 5 p.m., but some cracks are beginning to show in Beck’s Fox News funhouse mirror — caused by a combination of factors, including a post-election hangover, a cyclical shift to harder news and his absurd views (even for conservatives) on Egypt — which could reflect badly on the once-impenetrable Beck Brand.
Beck’s television ratings have been fizzling for some time now.
In January, his FNC show averaged 1.76 million total viewers during the 5 p.m. hour, according to Nielsen estimates – down 39 percent compared to January 2010.
And he scored just 397,000 viewers in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, a 48 percent slide.
February did not show much improvement. Through Feb. 27 his Fox show is down 26 percent in total viewers for the year (2.06 million compared to 2.89 million last year) and off 30 percent in the demo, averaging 501,000 25-to-54-year-olds vs. 760,000 last year.
Overall, Beck’s show is down 35 percent in total viewers in 2011 (averaging 1.9 million over the first seven weeks, compared to 2.93 million last year) and 44 percent in the demo (447,000 vs. 793,000 a year ago).
Including February, Beck has seen nine consecutive month-over-month declines in total viewers, and seven among 25-to-54-year-olds.
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“There are a myriad of factors that impact month-to-month viewing from news cycles to vacations, weather,” Joel Cheatwood, Fox News senior vice president of development who oversees Beck’s program, told TheWrap. “It's a long list.”
Politics may be at the top of that list.
“Last year was a political year,” TVNewser editor Alex Weprin said. “With the midterm elections looming in November, cable news was obsessed with reading the tea leaves.” It was also the year of the Tea Party, “which Beck made a major part of his shows,” culminating in his “Restoring Honor” that drew close to 100,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in August.
But this year, hard news — and particularly in the Middle East — has been the focus of cable news programming, including on Beck's show. “Beck is at his best when he is talking politics, not when he is talking about the situation in Libya,” Weprin said.
Beck’s “strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents,” New York Times columnist Frank Rich argued in a recent column.
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called a recent Beck rant on the revolution in Egypt "marginalizing" and an act of promoting "hysteria."
“When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left," Kristol wrote, "he's marginalizing himself.”
That’s not stopping Beck, of course. On his radio show on Tuesday, Beck called CNN's Fareed Zakaria a "useful idiot" and an "out and out America-basher" for his views on Egypt and Muslims; on Thursday, he apologized for comparing Judaism to Islamic Extremism, a day after he was slammed by the Anti-Defamation League for doing so.
“I think that without a major election on the horizon, no major Tea Party events and a lot of hard news happening, loyal Fox News viewers may be more inclined to tune into Bret Baier or Shepard Smith than to Beck,” Weprin said.
Beck still owns a healthy lead among cable competitors in his timeslot. Despite month-over-month declines, the show is drawing 300,000 more total viewers than all cable news competitors in the time period combined, and more 25-to-54-year-olds, too. “That's a hit in any universe,” Cheatwood said.
But Beck’s slide in the ratings has given some distant hope to would-be cable news rivals. CNN’s “Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer is up 15 percent in total viewers this month (681,000 compared to 592,000 last year) and 59 percent (196,000 vs. 123,000) in the 25-to-54-year-old demo. MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews is up 31 percent in total viewers (666,000 vs. 509,000) and 55 percent in the demo (129,000 compared to just 83,000 during the first half of February 2010).
There are other parts of the Beck Empire to consider, too. Beck is a prolific author. But his latest, the politics-eschewing "Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life" — which ranked as high as #2 on the Bookscan nonfiction chart a few weeks ago — has dropped out of the top 10 bestsellers, according to Nielsen Bookscan data. That’s an unusual spot for Beck, who in 2009 became the only author in history to ever have #1 New York Times bestsellers on four different lists at once.
But one book dud, if you can even call it that, shouldn’t alarm Beck fans. “The self-help book was way outside of the stuff he normally writes about,” Weprin noted, “so even if it is a flop, it would not necessarily surprise me because it is something his fans may not care that passionately about.”
The one part of Brand Beck that does appear to be growing is “The Blaze,” the fledgling, six-month-old website that Beck says will eventually become “a credible, large replacement for The New York Times.” Last month, he hired ex-Huffington Post chief Betsy Morgan to run it. And its traffic is on the rise. About 2.1 million visited the site in January, according to Quantcast estimates — up from about 1.5 million in December.
So where does this all leave Beck?
“My honest opinion is that it is too soon to tell,” Weprin said. “If his TV and radio ratings continue to decline throughout the year, and some more overtly political books he writes flop, then I would start to get concerned.”