During war, it is often said that the media and especially television are agents of war. For almost twenty years, media historians have argued that war is the father of all media and that the history of modern media is the history of modern war. During World War II, stories were told in the same way as moving photographs told stories in the theater. The film crews remained mostly in non-combat areas and covered the war in a positive context. Journalists often reported bad news to the public optimistically.
The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was covered radically different from World War II. In fact, Vietnam is viewed by many historians as the ‘First Television War’. Reporters and film crews were almost always embedded in the war zone, reporting and writing stories in the field.
The live television era began at the New York World’s Fair on April 30, 1939, four months prior to the start of World War II and Germany’s invasion of Poland. There were only a few hundred devices (TVs) on the market at the time, and only one RCA Experimental Station (W2XBS in New York). President Roosevelt’s speech was covered live. The next morning, TVs were sold in New York stores, and the TV era began.
Looking back through history, broadcasters have always been at the epicenter of events in times of crisis, and this has had a positive effect on their ratings. For example, during the Iraq War, news coverage increased by 300%. FOX News’ audience spiked from just over one million to 5 million. CNN’s audience grew to 3.3 million, while MSNBC doubled its audience.
Ratings spikes during conflict can also be seen today. For example, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drew the public’s attention to new television news and political talk shows. As a result, viewership soared compared to the pre-war period. FOX News led the way in increased viewership while CNN viewership increased significantly.
From February 23 – 27, 2022, FOX News recorded 2.32 million daily viewers, a 64% increase from January’s numbers. CNN’s January audience grew from 633,000 to 1.75 million, an increase of 178%, while MSNBC had 980,000 for the period, up 51% from January.
The above figures show a tendency for CNN to increase its rating during periods of crisis, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while its rivals are generally more stable, reporting consistently better ratings in times where there is no crisis.
The ratings of political talk shows have also increased compared to the pre-war period. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show (1.7 million viewers) and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (1.6 million viewers) exceeded the pre-war rating trends, and ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muirwas the highest-grossing show on television as of February 28, reporting 8.7 million viewers.
The growth of news coverage in the United States continued in March. For example, in March, new cable news coverage increased by 14% compared to February, with a share of 21% due to coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Live broadcasts also showed the highest share of full TV consumption in March, accounting for 30% of the time spent watching.
A similar trend was observed on the Georgian television market. Based on Tri Media Intelligence TV measurement data, some Georgian channels continuously aired news programs and political talk shows, which had a positive effect on their rating. Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war has shown that, like CNN, the ratings of Mtavari Arkhi, TV Pirveli and Formula, rise during periods of conflict, while other TV channels, such as Imedi are characterized by greater stability and a better rating in peacetime.
Compared to the pre-war period (January 30 – February 23), the duration of daily news programs and political talk shows throughout the television market increased by 20% since the start of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine war (February 24 – March 20), and the number of viewers watching programs of this genre increased by 109%.
The viewing behavior of younger audiences also shifted from the pre-war period, as they began to spend more time watching news and political talk shows on TV. For example, the viewing rate of men aged 18 to 44 increased by 95%, while the viewing rate of women of the same age increased by 100%. Viewing programs of this genre has increased both in Tbilisi and in Georgia’s regions. From February 24 to March 20, the viewing of this genre increased by 77% in Tbilisi, and by 75% in the regions compared to the pre-war period (January 30 – February 23, 2022).
Broadcaster worked in emergency mode, devoting much more time to daily news and political genre talk shows. For example, the duration of daily news and political talk shows on Rustavi 2 increased by 76%, and the number of viewers increased by 103%. The viewing rate of news programs and political genre talk shows increased by 150% on Formula and 112% on TV Pirveli. The duration of news genre programs on Mtavari Arkhi increased by 64%, while the viewing rate of news programs increased by 94%. As for Imedi TV, the duration of news programs increased by 51% from February 24 to March 20 compared to the pre-war period, while the number of viewers of this genre increased by 63%. The duration of news genre and talk shows also increased on the Public Broadcaster (67%), which led to a 51% increase in the number of viewers of the same genre.