Red America, blue America and reality TV

August 22, 2013

Here are a few facts every ad buyer and marketing strategist knows: Republicans like to watch live sports and reality television shows. Democrats prefer sitcoms and “The View.” Republicans prefer Jay Leno, while Democrats who stay up late choose Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” or David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

Yes, there is a red America and a blue America, at least according to television viewing habits. Our friends at National Media, a Republican ad-buying firm, sent us this map of a recent television event. Using data from Rentrak, a company that monitors data from set-top boxes, the map shows what percentage of television viewers in specific designated market areas watched this television event live.

Can you guess what television event split the country along starker lines than any election ever would? The answer is below the map, so don’t scroll too far without taking your guess. A word on the key: White DMAs tracked closely with the national average. Red indicates higher-than-average viewership; the darker the red, the more viewers tuned in. Blue indicates lower-than-average viewership; darker blue means fewer people watched.


A heat map of a television event from August 14, 2013. Graphic: Tracey Robinson, National Media

If you noticed the very high viewership in Louisiana and Mississippi, you got a pretty good hint: The map shows the percentage of viewers who tuned in to the Aug. 14 season four premiere of “Duck Dynasty,” the A&E reality series about a family from West Monroe, La., that makes duck calls for hunters.

The season premiere got huge ratings in the Lake Charles, La. media market, where more than 52 percent of households tuned in. The show got ratings higher than a 30 percent share in 25 media markets, which National Media’s Will Feltus tells us is comparable to most Super Bowls. Of the top 15 media markets that tuned in to the premiere, only three — Lima, Ohio, Charleston, W.Va. and Evansville, Ind. — are outside the South.

Those are amazing ratings, especially for a cable show. “Duck Dynasty” was the second-most watched prime time show on Aug. 14, and the only show in the top 10 most-watched that aired on a cable channel. Only the “America’s Got Talent” live results show, on NBC, scored a higher rating; the other eight shows of the night were all on NBC, CBS or ABC.

Perhaps not surprisingly, West Coasters and urbanites were least likely to watch. The show did worst in the San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles media market, where only 2.5 to 3 percent of households tuned in. New York, Boston, Las Vegas and Chicago were all near the bottom in media market performance.

Anyone thinking of buying political advertisements should take note: Republicans were about 50 percent more likely to tune in to the season premiere than Democrats, and Republicans who always vote in statewide elections were almost twice as likely to tune in than were Democrats. Four media markets in Virginia returned household shares with scores higher than 21 (The Washington, D.C. market returned a 16 share, which is still pretty high). So, if you’re, say, running for governor in Virginia, buying ads the next time A&E broadcasts a new episode of “Duck Dynasty” might be a smart investment.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · August 22, 2013