MEMO TO: THE HONORABLE JAMES COMER (R-KY)
FROM: STEVE LEBLANG, MEDIA GURU
Dear Mr. Comer,
Seems like you woke up yesterday in a bit of a kerfluffle, what with all of this consternation and concern from some of your constituents, colleagues and idols over this whole crisis regarding the “deplatforming” of Newsmax by DirecTV. It’s apparently been enough of a “crisis” to warrant the immediate attention of your Texas colleague Wesley Hunt, who appears on the channel often. So yesterday morning it was apparently your turn for their spotlight.
And, per Justin Baragona of the Daily Beast, you took the opportunity to assure all the concerned parties that, as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, this issue has now moved far up your list of priorities–right up there with the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, it appears. This is how Baragona reported it:
During a Newsmax appearance on Friday morning, House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-KY) pledged a commitment to the network that his committee would look into DirecTV removing the network from its service.
“So, DirectTV pulling Newsmax off the air Tuesday night, making Newsmax the second major cable network to be pulled from DirectTV in the last year,” Newsmax anchor Rob Finnerty said, referencing the provider dropping little-watch far-right channel One America News.
“Congress didn’t hold hearings a year ago for OAN because it was OAN and not CNN, and Democrats were in charge in Congress. You’re in charge now. Are you gonna hold hearings for Newsmax?” Finnerty continued.
“Yes,” Comer replied. “There’s gonna be a committee that’s gonna hold hearings. We’re sitting, we’re gonna meet later today and try to discuss which committee’s gonna do what. That’s certainly on the agenda. I’m very concerned by this.”
Apparently, your concerns became amplified by something else that happened earlier in the week, which Baragona also reported on:
After revealing that he spoke with network CEO Chris Ruddy last week to boast about Newsmax’s ratings (the network attracts barely 100,000 viewers daily), Comer said DirecTV’s decision is “very concerning to me.” He also claimed that it is “very similar” to what he claims is the “weaponization of the DOJ and FBI and what they did to Twitter and Facebook.”
Well, Mr. Comer, this sort of stuff is actually my speciality. I’ve participated in and provided information to lots of people involved in what we peons call carriage disputes, and this is yet another one of them. So in the spirit of saving you and the American people some time and money, let me educate you into exactly what is going on and why, quite honestly, you’re a bit misinformed.
Ruddy is a businessman and is spinning numbers to make them sound as impressive as possible. That’s his fiduciary responsibility as CEO. Yours is to understand the context and background behind those numbers.
As Wayne Friedman of MediaPost, a longtime expert on actual audience measurement who I’ve worked with for decades, penned, here’s how the people actually involved with this dispute see it:
Here is a key point, made by Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy in a letter sent to Congressman Wesley Hunt of Texas on Tuesday: “Yet they continue to carry and pay [for] many liberal channels with a fraction of Newsmax’s audience share [emphasis added].”
Audience share? Is this Newsmax audience share — relative to itself? Is it the share of all TV news channels or all cable TV consumers in the U.S.?
In terms of viewership, we know this:
For the latest week, ending January 16, Newsmax averaged 98,000 viewers — tied with Fox Sports 1 and good for 59th place (out of over 120 channels), and 113,000 viewers in prime time, in 61st place.
Looking at news-specific content: In total day viewing it tied The Weather Channel and topped Accuweather (6,000) in viewing; in prime-time viewing it topped NewsNation (87,000); Vice (60,000) and Fox Business Channel (58,000). Are those all “liberal” TV channels? More importantly, are they all getting carriage fees from DirecTV?
Let me interject: Per Nielsen, Newsmax was available in 51.5M TV households when this data was compiled–meaning, in an average minute, 99.8% of those with televisions measured by Nielsen who could see Newsmax on a television provider didn’t bother watching a damn thing (and, more than likely, not even your handsome face during your big interview).
But, as Friedman continues, these carriage disputes aren’t merely limited to just ratings.
If we are to measure the success and worth of a TV network, from a financial point of view, while actual viewership is important, so is its direction — up, down, whatever.
Another key measure for TV distributors is if there is an advertising share component in the deals with networks. If that TV commercial time can be sold for a decent price, that’s good. If not, well…
The underlying message from Netflix here seems to be that DirecTV may be practicing some kind monopolist, anticompetitive behavior.
The trouble is that DirecTV is not nearly as strong a pay TV provider as it was years ago. It has lost millions of subscribers over the past few years due to systemic cord-cutting. And its financial health probably is not all that strong.
Plenty of alternative TV and media distributors for content are burgeoning — making it harder for DirecTV to retain subscribers. Audience-wise, we know that TV news content is different — skewing to a much older crowd that might be hesitant to go searching for new technology for that content.
And that’s yet another issue, one that DirecTV took note of when considering its options. Newsmax has been made available in OTT form, unedited, to virtually everyone with a high-speed internet connection. So, actually, in almost every one of DirecTV’s households (approximately a fourth of the estimated Nielsen footprint), the content that Mr. Ruddy and certain heavily-truthing friends of his claim has been “censored” is actually more ubiquituously available to people than merely through DirecTV. It’s not unique content which DirecTV can offer up its current and potential subscribers that adds value to them. Yet, in spite of that reality check, Mr. Ruddy believes Newsmax warrants the receipt of carriage fees.
As The Daily Beast explained, which perhaps you missed whatwith all of your interviewing and rounding people up for committee meetings:
Newsmax, which had been with DirecTV since the channel’s launch in 2014, was dropped by the pay-TV carrier this week after demanding license fees in a new deal. DirecTV balked at the request, noting that the network provided it on-air content for free on several different platforms and its own app.
Newsmax continued to make these claims even after DirecTV signed right-wing channel The First to replace Newsmax in its lineup. (The First appears to have accepted a deal similar to the one Newsmax rejected.)
Now since Mr. Ruddy once worked for The New York Post in an era when its owner was attempting to roll out FOX News Channel–you know, the one his talent grudingly refers to as the sole remaining reprEsentation of Conservative viewpoints remaining on DirecTV–he more than likely knows that that team freely offered reverse compensation–as high as $10 per household when it finally rolled out in 1996–to providers to get the channel on the air.
Yes, FOX News Channel does receive carriage fees now, but only after 26-plus years on the air. But last week, per Joseph Kapsch of The Wrap, they delivered an average audience 14 times larger than Newsmax’s. And no, they don’t provide their content for free anywhere else.
Now, just between us, Mr. Comer, do you THINK FOX News MIGHT be more deserving of being paid for a TAD more than Newsmax?
And if DirecTV–which, yes, does have the right to run its business optimally, isn’t that the American way?–provides a service with similar viewpoints, with perhaps more recognizable and promotable names in its lineup than the obscure newsreaders and niche pundits Ruddy employs–are they actually guilty of anything that Mr. Ruddy and his enabling, less informed friends assert?
Let me share a little bit of insight about that friend of Mr. Ruddy’s, from an unimpeachable source who once personally had to supply that person with overnight ratings on a little show he once starred in for NBC. In those days. networks would call nervous executives and talent in the pre-dawn hours as soon as ratings came in from 56 overnight cities. Mr. Ruddy’s friend would often call from a private plane, allegedly jotting down numbers as they were being read to him in market rank order. In the largest markets, NBC affiliates tended to be less dominant with lower ratings. When you got down about 20 rankings to St. Louis, NBC’s KSDK would often deliver household ratings in the high teens or low twenties. Then, and only then, there would be an audible reaction and a call to someone in the distance:
“Melania! Melania! Get a pen!! Write this down!! We’re number one!!!”. (And then. some cursing in Slovak would be heard, and the balance of the markets would be read, with little attention being paid)
Well, yes, sir, in St. Louis, you often were number one. But you almost never were nationally, or in New York or Los Angeles, which you still claimed to be in almost every press conference. Sometimes some reporters even believed you. Perhaps Mr. Ruddy, or one of his lapdogs, may have been among them.
So it’s kinda understandable that based upon that level of expertise and savvy with actual data, Mr. Hunt and others would jump to the conclusions they did, and get your dander up so much that you’re trying to give this whole carriage dispute thing the scrutiny of the quiz show scandals or the McCarthy hearings.
Well, Mr. Comer, I think you can see objectively–assuming you’re capable of that–that this is certainly nothing quite that sinister, that Newsmax hasn’t actually lost access to anyone, and DirecTV is merely exerting its rights to make a better deal with a more willing partner that will deliver better cost efficiencies.
Just like they did before they were owned by News Corporation, and that company gave them an incentive to carry FOX News Channel in its infancy, when its national delivery was roughly on par with what Newsmax’s is nine years into its existence (though, I admit, these are more fractionalized times).
Now, sir, for the record, I do watch your channel from time to time, and I personally think that even in your sector the quality of your content, apart from your viewpoints, is neither original nor compelling. I mean–Good God–could you even find a slightly more unique FONT so you don’t look EXACTLY like FOX News?
At least I occasionally watch. I’m in that 0.2 per cent of people with televisions who do. And I don’t believe Newsmax’s content deserves anything more than the right to be seen, and by streaming it for free, Mr. Ruddy has bypassed any need for any MVPD or VMVPD to amplify and dual-illuminate it.
I know those terms may be alien to you, Mr. Chairman. That’s why I’m offering you the chance to reach out to me privately, or someone else who gets this business more than you do, to explain it in more detail, in language you might be capable of understanding. Not sure how simplistic it will have to be. I could entertain the use of emojis if that’ll help you.
But you don’t need to promise anyone, let alone Mr. Ruddy’s feckless minions on their largely unseen air, that you’re gonna spend any time, money or effort looking into this issue. Frankly, there’s bigger issues for the likes of your committee members to consider looking into, and for a network that calls itself NEWSMax to report on.
Like, perhaps, the Memphis police force?
I suspect you’ll go on your merry way nonetheless, because what credibility do I have, right? Well, friend, I’ve been doing what I do a lot longer than you have, with far more integrity than you appear to be capable of. I personally know the folks at DIRECTV. And I know you really should better things to do than pick a fight with them, regardless of what uninformed schmucks may be encouraging you to do.
I’ll hope you’ll pay attention, but will nonetheless fear the worst.
Tsk, tsk. Mr. Comer, you should be smarter. I’ve just given you some of the tools and background to be so.
Go get a pen and write it down. And don’t curse in Slovak when you do.
Until next time….