Fox News and CNN Mobile Apps Benefited from Presidential Race Coverage

The last US presidential elections have raised a lot of questions about news coverage and consumption, including the role of major news networks in times when Americans access most of the information through social media, and often on their mobile devices. The major news broadcasting networks — ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC — face a growing competition from a slew of news and entertainment apps that were created with mobile user preferences and habits in mind. So where do the major news networks fit in? Before we jump into discussions and conclusions, let’s look at how Americans have used major network news apps throughout the presidential race and elections in 2016. Below are a few findings based on 7Park Data’s multi-million mobile user panel.

Overall, when it comes to major network news apps, it appears that presidential elections had the most impact on Fox News and CNN app usage, with Fox News benefiting the most. We didn’t find any significant changes in ABC or NBC news apps’ performance in our user panel throughout the same time period.

New users

As soon as Republican and Democratic party presidential hopefuls began to announce their candidacies (mid-summer 2015), Fox News and CNN mobile apps began to pick up new users. Considering that all major networks’ mobile apps were on a steady downhill slide at the time, it’s hard to ignore the coincidence between presidential race events and the changed fortunes of the news apps. See the chart below.

Usage frequency

In addition to gaining new users, CNN and Fox News apps saw growth in daily active users (DAUs), as the presidential race coverage grew. Fox News saw the highest number of DAUs around the first presidential general election debate held on September 26. The app’s DAUs began to faze out after that point, but picked back up after the elections in November. Daily usage of the CNN app spiked during the elections week, but has been continuously declining since then. Maybe the fact that Republican candidate won the election has something to do with Fox News app’s popularity. See the chart below.

On a weekly basis, Fox News app users checked in more often than users of any other major network apps. During the week of July 23, when the Wikileaks published DNC’s emails revealing systematic bias against Bernie Sanders, Fox News app’s individual users checked in almost five times as often as CNN app users and ten times as often as the CBS fans did. During that week, Fox News had a significant increase in both frequency and time spent in-app. See the chart below.

Time spent in app

As far as how much time users spent in major network news apps, CBS app users, albeit smaller in number and frequency of usage, devoted considerably more time consuming content than those of CNN, NBC, or ABC. One of the explanations could be that CBS offers long-form programming, such as 60 Minutes and Face the Nation. But here too, Fox News offered solid competition — once the presidential race began to heat up, Fox News app users began to spend more time in app on a weekly basis.

There’s an opportunity for major news networks to capture the attention and build audiences via mobile (where increasingly more people get their news), especially around crucial events. Maybe then fake news won’t be the main source of information and dominate the public discourse.

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