The country's heightening polarization extends even to the television we watch, severing another thread of America's collective consciousness as it gears up for the 2020 presidential election.
Why it matters: Americans used to have only a few TV options, leading to moments of mass culture like The Beatles' appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" or the "M*A*S*H" finale. But just as the spread of social media jumpstarted political tribalization, the rise of cable and streaming services has necessitated a need for a wealth of content — increasingly targeted and niche — that has hastened a cultural splintering.
The state of play: That split is evidenced by the geographic schisms in Google interest in two programs — HBO's "Succession" and USA's "WWE Raw" — which both air weekly to similarly-sized audiences.
- "Succession," a comedy-drama about the machinations of the ultra-rich family running a media conglomerate, kicked off its second season this month with constant coverage in the country's papers of record (see: "The Making of Wealth Porn") and a slew of awards nominations. Its search interest is highest on the coasts and in the priciest cities in the U.S., like New York and San Francisco.
- Meanwhile, "Raw," the wrestling extravaganza in its 26th season, hasn't had a mention in The New York Times in the past year, even as it had the second-most social media interactions per episode of any TV series in 2018, according to Nielsen. And its search interest is decidedly clustered in the Rust Belt and the South — in other words, prime Trump country.
Traditional network shows also face this same divide, according to a SurveyMonkey poll from Business Insider.
- "Last Man Standing," Tim Allen's unabashedly conservative FOX comedy series, was listed by 65% of conservatives as one of their five favorite shows — and 0% of liberals. And NBC's "The Good Place," a philosophy-heavy comedic look at the afterlife, was a top-fiver for 59% of liberals but just 6% of conservatives.
- Last year's ill-fated reboot of "Roseanne" on ABC — now spun off as "The Conners" following its titular star's racist Twitter tirade — was the rare show that tried to bridge the political divide, briefly becoming the highest-rated sitcom in years when it first premiered, per The Hollywood Reporter.
The big picture: This television tribalization isn't just limited to entertainment programming. During any given week, the list of the most-watched shows across cable television is dominated by Fox News — with a few appearances by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — highlighting how political punditry so often functions as entertainment in Americans' media diets.
- The space is so lucrative that Fox News launched its own streaming service last year, which includes entertainment programming centered on its pundits, like a cooking show featuring "Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy.
The bottom line: As more and more streaming services with their own cloistered libraries spin up, highlighted by the launch of Disney+ later this year, expect this trend to only accelerate.
Go deeper: The media battle over radicalization