Cable news networks are making billions off the 2016 presidential election, even as the media’s approval ratings take a nosedive with the public.
In a contest pitting two historically disliked general election candidates against each other, the media is even less popular.
Only 19 percent of U.S. adults approved of the media in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. And only 32 percent trust the press, according to a Gallup survey from September.
The numbers are even worse among Republicans, who have long seen the mainstream media as biased against their candidates. Gallup found that only 14 percent of Republicans trusted the media, a drop from the year before.
The low public opinion numbers come against a backdrop of high ratings and huge profits.
CNN beat Fox News among the coveted 18- to 54-year-old demographic in October in both prime time and for the total day.
The Washington Post recently reported that, according to sources familiar with CNN’s finances, “the network and its related media businesses will approach $1 billion in gross profit in 2016.”
That’s a bigger profit than CNN has ever seen in its 36-year history.
While the profits come from CNN International, CNN.com and the Headline News Network, the $1 billion is primarily the product of CNN itself.
Fox won the most total viewers in October of any basic cable network, despite competition from networks airing college football and the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Fox, which hosted the first GOP debate in 2015, generated $2.3 billion in ad sales and $1.6 billion in operating profit for its parent company, 21st Century Fox, in 2015, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That number will undoubtedly be higher in 2016 given the bigger audiences and higher ad rates in the election year.
MSNBC is also having an exceptional year. In October alone, viewership was up 168 percent overall and 261 percent in the 18–54 demographic.
To be sure, not all media companies are doing as well.
Print continues to struggle, and newspapers in particular have declined as publications struggle to replace print ad sales with online sales.
But cable news has been a big winner, even as its style of coverage appears to be contributing to wide disapproval of the media.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE’s campaign has surely played a role in the souring opinions of the press.
The GOP presidential nominee routinely criticizes the media as biased, sometimes leading supporters on to boo and jeer reporters at his events.
Many people agree with Trump that the media has sided in this race with Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE. By a nearly 10-to-1 margin, respondents to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll in October said the media was rooting for Clinton.
While some Democrats have criticized the media for focusing too much of its coverage on the controversies related to Clinton’s private email server and charitable foundation, many Republicans believe those stories haven’t received enough attention.
In the Gallup poll, 51 percent of Democrats said they trusted the press, nearly four times the number of Republicans who said so. Thirty percent of independents said they trusted the media.