Understanding the impact of TV news on foot traffic since COVID-19

A comparison of Fox News and MSNBC viewers

TV News Covid

TV news viewership undoubtedly impacts people’s perception of the world. But how much does it influence their real world behaviors? To address this question, we decided to take a closer look at foot traffic patterns across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began, analyzing the habits of MSNBC viewers versus Fox News viewers.

So what did we find? Fox News viewers have been out in the physical world significantly more than MSNBC viewers since April 2020. They’re more likely to be visiting all categories of places outside of their homes, but show a particularly large discrepancy in terms of visitation to non-essential businesses like bars, salons, clothing stores and gyms. Below, we’ll explore who is watching these different channels and how their behavior has (or has not) changed since the pandemic began.

Foursquare analyzes foot traffic data from millions of Americans who make up our first party panel. For this analysis, we combined visitation data with TV viewership data from Inscape, VIZIO’s data product with insights from 16+ million opt-in TVs across America. All data is either anonymized, pseudonymized or aggregated, and is normalized against U.S. Census data to remove age, gender and geographical bias. We focused on the top 20% of viewers for a given channel, to remove more occasional or casual viewers, focusing on behaviors from March through September 2020.

Key Findings
MSNBC viewers have consistently been staying in more than Fox News viewers since the pandemic began. In the chart below, you’ll see indexed foot traffic to locations outside of people’s homes. While different news networks’ viewers behaved fairly similarly through mid-March, visits outside of the home declined by nearly 30% amongst MSNBC viewers at the height of the pandemic, whereas Fox News viewers’ non-home visits only declined by 22%. At the end of April is when we start to see behavioral patterns meaningfully diverge, with traffic starting to pick up amongst Fox News viewers, as MSNBC viewers stayed at home more. MSNBC viewers’ visitation outside of the home did not return to pre-pandemic levels until mid-June, whereas Fox News viewers’ visits were back to pre-pandemic levels a full month earlier, in mid-May.

Next, we decided to hone in on specific types of places outside of the home. Analyzing foot traffic to all shops and services, including both essential and non-essential businesses, we continue to see significantly more traffic from Fox News viewers than MSNBC viewers from mid-April onwards. The gap remained fairly consistent throughout the summer and into the fall.

The greatest discrepancy in news network viewers’ foot traffic patterns since COVID-19 began is around non-essential businesses like bars, salons, gyms, entertainment venues, clothing stores, and other specialty retailers. While MSNBC viewers are still roughly at or below pre-pandemic levels from February 2020, you’ll see that visitation to these locations was actually up 12-14% amongst Fox News viewers by August and September 2020. Similar to non-home visits overall, visit patterns to non-essential businesses between these groups diverged around the end of April, when non-essential businesses started to re-open in certain states, such as Georgia.

So who is watching these different news networks?

We’ve analyzed TV news viewers based on the places they go in the physical world to get a better understanding of their patterns, preferences and passion points.

MSNBC Loyalists

MSNBC viewers may be students, more likely than the average American to visit law schools +(39%), medical schools (+60%), and universities overall (+13%). They may also be young parents, more likely than the average U.S. consumer to visit private schools (+19%) and playgrounds (+18%).

When it comes to their lifestyle, it’s evident that MSNBC viewers are into fitness, more likely to visit yoga studios (+27%), cycle studios (+25%), gym pools (+19%), and fitness centers (+11%). They also tend to be healthy eaters, frequenting organic groceries (+72%), health food stores (+62%), salad places (+33%), farmers markets (+17%), vegetarian restaurants (+49%), fruit & vegetable stores (+19%), and juice bars (+19%).

MSNBC viewers are also nature lovers, more likely than the average U.S. consumer to visit state parks (+60%) and national parks (+29%), as well as rock climbing spots (+42%), bike trails (+20%), and nature preserves (+13%). They may be environmentally conscious in other ways – for example, they’re +14% more likely than the average American to visit electric vehicle charging stations.

Fox News Loyalists

Fox News viewers may be affluent, more likely than the average American to visit clubhouses (+29%) and social clubs (+18%), leisure sports like tennis courts (+54%) and golf courses (+46%). They’re travelers, more likely than the average American to visit airport lounges (+26%), baggage claims (+39%), airport gates (+24%), vacation rentals (+39%), resorts (+33%), and hotels (+13%). Fox News viewers also show an affinity of more upscale dining and nightlife categories like steakhouses (+29%) and seafood restaurants (+23%).

Fox News viewers might also be more hands-on, cost-conscious DIY-ers and homeowners. They’re more likely than the average American to visit hardware stores (+17%), as well as lighting stores (+24%), construction & landscaping sites (+24%), and carpet stores (+27%) and fabric shops (+18%). They show an affinity for certain affordable dining chains, as well as some price-conscious retailers. When it comes to hobbies, Fox News viewers also show an affinity for the outdoors, but with slightly different preferences from MSNBC viewers, visiting fishing spots (+34%), lakes (+15%), campgrounds (+15%), and fishing stores (+12%).

The Takeaway?

By combining TV viewership data with location data, advertisers, researchers, and platforms can quantify the impact of TV on foot traffic to locations.

While this analysis focuses on how TV programming influences people’s behavior, marketers can leverage this same technology to measure their TV ads’ effect on store visitation with Foursquare Attribution.

Savvy marketers can also target specific location-based audiences with TV ads, tapping into our Audience integrations with TV buying platforms such as Hulu and Roku. Location data allows you to identify those who are still staying home versus those who are out and about, enriching first party customer data and tailoring messaging to their mindset.

Innovative researchers are conducting this type of trend analysis themselves by licensing Foursquare Visits. To explore the different location datasets available, please visit us on Amazon Data Exchange today.

For more information, contact us at hello@foursquare.com.

Editor’s Note:
Foursquare analyzes foot traffic patterns from more than 13 million Americans that make up our always-on panel. All data is either anonymized, pseudonymized or aggregated, and is normalized against U.S. Census data to remove age, gender and geographical bias. For this analysis, Foursquare looked at data from March 2020 – September 2020. Percentages above indicate more or less likely to visit than the average U.S. consumer.

Non-Essential places include Bars, Nightlife Spots, Food, Gyms or Fitness Centers, Museums, Movie Theaters, Theaters, Stadiums, Casinos, Music Venues, Racetracks, Salons, Barbers hops, Nail Salons, Spas, Bowling Alleys, Clothing Stores, Shoe Stores, Sporting Goods Shops, Furniture / Home Stores. Chain and category affinities are indexed against the average consumer in Foursquare’s panel and Inscape panel.