Before I start – I am not a theologian, a book writer, a YouTube commentator, or anyone special within the Catholic media sphere. However, if you have been following traditional Catholic media for a while, you will almost certainly seen arguments about the SSPX, their legitimacy, and its various (supposed) scandals. The disagreement has divided many popular “Trad Inc.” commentators, and there are now questions as to whether those fermenting the divide have financial interests. Here’s a quick recap:
Well, those are definitely interesting messages, but considering the fact that I have actually programmed analytics systems (hire me) and have used analytics before, I figured it would be an interesting afternoon to find out what financial interests there may be. I can’t get to the bottom of whether the SSPX is right or wrong, but I can probably assist the conversation with information showing whether there are financial interests or not.
So, where do I start? The graph from the top tweet actually comes from a service called Alexa, which is owned by Amazon (and not Trackalytics, which just buys Alexa data). This is not the same Alexa that powers those smart speakers. Amazon actually owns two Alexas: The smart speaker one, and a data and web traffic analysis company. This Alexa buys traffic data from Internet Service Providers and repackages it for web development agencies, who pay $299/mo. for the privilege of using that data. This data is certainly not perfectly accurate, and any numbers provided should be taken as just an estimate.
I do freelance web programming and analytics work, and so I signed up for a trial of Alexa to get some information. Who are the most popular commentators? And, what is the popularity graph for those commentators? And, what websites do listeners of these commentators visit most often? And other questions of the sort. Anything interesting that Alexa could give me, honestly. I decided to start out with the elephant in the room, Church Militant, and expand to other commentators.
This is a 1-year graph of Church Militant’s worldwide internet rank. Basically, how popular is the website worldwide? Google is #1 at this, YouTube is #2, Facebook is #3, etc, all the way down to Church Militant’s 1 year peak of #60,376. This rank is not perfectly accurate, and I don’t know quite what the margin of error is. Church Militant’s current rank is #97,799, which is a major rank drop from June 2019. That peak in March, before the SSPX fight, was #79,181. Still a massive drop in rank.
If you aren’t shocked enough by that downward trend, take a look at the 3-year graph. It gets worse for the ranking:
The peak was around #43,715 in November 2018. Remember, it is now #97,799. This does not mean that Church Militant has only half the traffic, it just means that they are much lower in the list of most-visited addresses. It is safe to say though, that Church Militant has significantly less traffic than previously, and that doesn’t help when you just did a studio expansion.
However, this isn’t the beginning of what looks like a worrisome image for Church Militant. This is a graph of where Church Militant gets most of their viewership from:
As you can see from this graph, Church Militant gets roughly ~84% of their viewership from users who directly enter the URL into their address bar. This means that the massive drop in rank cannot be solely attributed to, say, Google and Bing demoting the website. Church Militant does not have a strong social media presence, getting only ~2.5% of website traffic from social media posts and 5% from links on other websites. Only ~8% of Church Militant’s traffic comes from search. This is especially notable considering Church Militant’s large numbers of paying subscribers, and it is logical to assume that almost all subscribers visit Church Militant directly. Thus, a drop this large in viewership may certainly correlate with a drop in paying subscribers, but only Michael Voris could confirm this. Remember, these are just estimates from Amazon Alexa, and only Church Militant has access to certifiably accurate numbers.
Church Militant has declining viewership, and so the SSPX story is all about saving money, right, or repositioning brands? It’s a little more complicated than that. Almost every Catholic trad media outlet has a similar trajectory.
As you can see from the graphs, just about everyone except the Remnant is suffering right now, but if you look at the overall graph, some are definitely hit more than others. I am not sure what caused the December 2017 drop within Patheos. Remember that these graphs are not quite as they appear: The difference between #100,000 and the #1,000,000 lines is 10x, not 1x. Also remember that Alexa rank does not correspond to viewership. It just means that Alexa believes this website is #X more/less popular worldwide.
As you can see from the three-year graph, Church Militant and National Catholic Register are actually neck-in-neck with each-other in popularity, weaving in and out and around each-other. You can see the bump in the October/November 2018, and a large decline around October/November 2019, with the Amazon synod. 1PeterFive was most impacted (yellow) and makes the Church Militant decline look like nothing in comparison. LifeSiteNews shot slightly up, Fr. Z took a bit of a tumble, and Taylor Marshall and The Remnant actually didn’t move much downward at all by comparison. The Remnant in the last month has actually shot up significantly, defying the downward trend.
Another data point is the traffic metrics for the last three months (the only range available for these “high-precision” numbers). Blank fields have no data available.
|Site||Global Rank (now)||<- Over last 3 months||Rank in Country (US)||Global Reach %||Over last 3 months||Global Pageviews %||Over last 3 months|
As you can see from the numbers, Church Militant pageviews are down 23% estimated in three months, which is massive. OnePeterFive is down 28% in three months, also massive. The Remnant is having a breakout last three months, with more than 70% more pageviews in the last three months. Great news for Michael Matt! [Full disclosure: Michael Matt lives, like, ~20 miles from me and I actually see him time to time at church, but I have never met him.]
And with that, the most powerful (Alexa ranked) Catholic blogging websites are, at this time of publication (4/25/2020):
- LifeSiteNews (#27,556)
- National Catholic Register (#93,531)
- Church Militant (#97,799)
- The Remnant (#285,071)
- OnePeterFive (#476,753)
- Taylor Marshall (#545,025)
- Fr. Z (#706,751)
- Canon212 (#2,262,969)
I think what is also important to consider when looking at the above numbers is the question, Where are these sources getting their traffic from? Church Militant gets 84% directly. With other websites, it’s very different. Here’s the full graph:
These percentages are for the last three months, Alexa doesn’t keep such detailed information for long. As you can see, Church Militant is a very weird anomaly with it’s unparalleled 84% direct traffic. That may be driven by the subscribers, but a loss of subscribers would also correlate with the drop in traffic after the synod and the SSPX debate?
I decided to look more at anything else Alexa could give me. I discovered a tool called Audience Overlap, and for those actively in the debate, the connections are frighteningly realistic. With # of sites set to a little over the default #50 (and Patheos removed, because that’s like every religion in one), we see a very interesting set of groupings that I believe may be the most important image in this post:
This is a graph as to what visitors of a bolded website tend to visit most often, visualized into thought bubbles, with the distance between them indicating the frequency of overlap between viewers. Some very interesting details can be brought from this:
- Church Militant and LifeSiteNews viewers go together, apparently. This is generally an Anti-SSPX, Pro-TLM crowd. Church Militant has also done stuff with Live Action and the Daily Wire, which surprisingly shows.
- National Catholic Register floats around with other, popular, sometimes heretical papers, such as America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, and Commonweal.
- Taylor Marshall’s viewership don’t read National Catholic Register much, but instead love visiting reference sites like Catholic.com, USCCB, Vatican.va, and CNA.
- The more SSPX-friendly crowd is a bubble of it’s own with Fr. Z and the Remnant, but it has a bit of overlap with the leaning-benevacantist crowd, such as Canon212, Catholic Family News (blocked by Church Militant, remember), and even the official SSPX website.
- Remember that the image above is made from estimates from web traffic. Alexa doesn’t know the content of the websites or what is going on at all: It just knows that people tend to congregate around the shown websites based on their web traffic patterns, which is fascinating.
So that’s all interesting stuff. What about YouTube? What’s going on there? Websites are only part of the story, right? The best we have for this information is SocialBlade, which archives YouTube data to help advertisers determine trends.
To avoid confusion, be aware that when SocialBlade shows a percentage, that’s in comparison to the previous 30 days. So if you see, say, 500 new subscribers in 30 days, down ~20%, it means the month earlier you got 600 new subscribers in 30 days and are ~20% down in comparison to last month.
Starting off, they are looking great, until you remember this is only 30 days.
Has Church Militant been losing subscribers or video views on YouTube? Nope, they are doing fine and gained after the Amazon synod. What about the breakout star online, The Remnant?
Michael Matt has been doing great! Just look at that 68% video viewership growth in 30 days and 200%-greater-than-average subscriber growth! What about Taylor Marshall?
Slow and steady, but at the same time, doubling the amount of new subscribers you are getting each month is a great statistic. Doesn’t look like the SSPX feud hurt him much, even if he is stagnating a bit. What about his former friend, Timothy Gordon? This is where things look worse.
His channel is younger, that must be remembered, but his channel is stagnating. He hasn’t lost viewership, but he’s gaining viewership comparatively slowly and the amount of new subscribers he’s getting each month is going down, which you wouldn’t exactly expect for his previously higher-profile status in Catholic Trad Media.
So, back to the beginning again? Are there financial motives for the SSPX feud? Well, Canon212 and Fr. Z, who are SSPX-friendly, are declining in viewership. On the other hand, SSPX-friendly Remnant has grown the most. Taylor Marshall is doing fine, but Timothy Gordon’s channel just isn’t taking off as much as it should be. The Anti-SSPX Church Militant hasn’t taken a major hit, but has definitely gone way down in viewership over the last year or two, which is not great right after you finished an expansion campaign. Are there financial motives? Who can say, as there are winners and losers on both sides. Look at the data, and think about it yourself a bit. Think about it over coffee. Read and re-read. Maybe Church Militant, or 1P5, or any of these groups will release official, guaranteed-accurate numbers to disprove this article, but I don’t count on it. And of course, popularity doesn’t determine truth. I wish I could write a happier or more journalistic ending to this post, but I’m only a college student, not a reporter. (Again, I’ve programmed analytics systems, that’s my realm of knowledge. If you liked this, hire me or take a look at other stuff on my website.)
I am curious where http://www.barnhardt.biz would fall in your rankings, especially the overlap map. It’s my understanding that Ann’s blog is out-pacing OnePeterFive, Taylor Marshall, and even Rorate Caeli right now.
That is an excellent question. I entered Berndhart in, and (remembering everything is estimates), I’d say she is not ahead of Taylor Marshall or 1PeterFive, but she did recently break out ahead of Fr. Z and is way ahead of Canon212’s estimate, which is not a small feat. Her best moment was in April 2019, when she actually was ahead of Taylor Marshall and The Remnant, but was behind Fr. Z and still behind 1PeterFive at the time. I might either update this blog post soon with more information from some other websites like hers, or do a Part 2 post with more details. I’ll keep you posted.
I appreciated you attempt to add another perspective to the discussion.
All I can do is comment as one, shell-shocked Catholic convert with a small circle of acquaintances in my parish. I’ve been accessing these sites less myself when I noticed that they spend more time attacking each other than anything else. IE I started to got to Canon 212 as a Catholic New Aggregator site, and after a while it seemed that prominent headlines were those attacking 1Peter 5. . Such bickering did not seem conducive to my faith so I rarely go there now. This is just one example.
It does certainly appear that many commentators do have a significant problem with self-righteousness. A view of, instead of just sometimes admitting “I don’t know,” they feel as though they must have an opinion on everything – and they act as if they will die defending that position rather than admitting their mistake. I don’t think we can #unitetheclans unless this major problem with Pride is solved.
I think what Traditional Catholics also fail to understand is where the devil spends his energy. Some well-known priests and exorcists (such as Fr. Ripperger) have said that the problem of Lust, for example, is a major problem in traditional massgoing groups (even sometimes worse than Novus Ordo attendees). It’s not the fault of the mass, it’s more that the devil spends more time trying to take those people down as they are more dangerous to his earthly kingdom. For these commentators, the devil gives them constant temptations to pride, and I think many commentators need to be better at recognizing this.
Spot on about pride. Some of the great writers like Thomas Kempis talk about attachment to one’s own opinions. That can be fatal in making a diagnosis and curing a malady since once people get tunnel vision. And really maybe some of this is just not our business? We all can only grasp a small sliver of reality.
With regard to the Trad community, it is different than regular parishes in that more of the people are really motivated often travelling great distances to go to Mass etc So you have a different slice of the “here comes every one” of the local NO parish.
I suppose the $64,000 question is, what’s been driving the general decline in trad media since 2017?
It seems counterintuitive, given that we all know that actual, on-the-ground traditional communities have been undergoing a major boom in just the last few years. Even the small, inner city diocesan TLM I help organize has jumped from an average of 65 last winter to about 160 before the Lockdown.
One possibility I can think of is what two of the trad-ish outlets who have been defying the trend best, LifeSite and The Remnant, have in common: They’ve both gotten more political (and Trumpish) in this time frame. That may be bringing in a different pool of visitors from a much larger demographic. But that’s just me speculating.
It could also be that so many of the newest wave of trads are growing young families not from traditional trad backgrounds – they’re aren’t generally wired into all this, and with family life being what it is, they don’t have the time to spend on it even if they were. And traditionalists are such a small demographic to begin with that it may not take much to make a major impact on data like this, in either direction.
But again, I’m speculating.
I am not certain myself, but I have a few thoughts from my perspective. This is just my not-theologically-trained opinion!
1. Church Militant, 1P5, and *some* of these declining websites were websites which insisted that the pope could not be criticized. Church Militant in particular banned users excessively, and anyone who questioned the pope, the conclave, or spoke remotely supportive of the SSPX was banned or their comments deleted. This may have caused frustration as the pope’s very-likely-heretical actions became more and more indefensible over the years, culminating with the Amazon Synod scandals which even Church Militant couldn’t suppress criticism of. But at that point, people paying attention (including myself, just my perspective) had the thought: Wait, now we are allowed to criticize the pope? You talked as if it was a mortal sin or something to criticize even after the Amoris, and Dubia, and countless other issues, and yet _this_ is what finally drove you over the cliff? We were flagging problems since 2015 and you wouldn’t listen!
[EDIT: 1PeterFive did frequently criticize the Pope, but it was also very certain that Francis is pope and there is no way that Benedict is. This may have been off-putting for the same reasons, even if 1P5 did allow such criticism.]
2. The message is very repetitive. I stopped watching the Vortex daily because, 80% of the time, it’s pretty much the exact same few complaints rehashed into a new format every week, or with a slightly different example but same general theme. It started to feel like they had only a dozen scripts, and they just remixed and recycled them over and over. It was not just the Vortex, it was starting to become respective everywhere. “Another day, another Cardinal’s bad.” Or: “Another day, another papal scandal.” Or: “Another day, another SSPX argument.” Repetitive media becomes aggravating.
3. It is becoming increasingly known that many of the Trad media outlets have surprisingly dark sides to them, which doesn’t seem right. Church Militant’s Simon Rafe _appears to have_ wrote a pornographic novel in 2011. Voris only came clean about his homosexuality after he mistakenly thought the Diocese of NY was going to out him (which reeks of a PR coverup rather than honesty). CM’s Christine Niles, it _appears_, left her husband of 11 years after discovering their marriage may have been uncanonical, rather than trying to make it canonical. Taylor Marshall wouldn’t provide Timothy Gordon, supposedly one of his best friends, even a sneak peek at his Infiltration book despite doing almost-daily podcasts for a year. And only like two-three weeks after Gordon finally got it, Taylor gave a copy… to Pope Francis. Timothy Gordon’s wife can be shockingly rude to people on Twitter, as you can see in the tweets at the top of the page, and in a way that you would certainly not expect for the wife of a faithful Catholic apologist. Tschugguel came out of nowhere, started an Institute a week after the throwing of the idol in the river, and that Institute currently doesn’t appear to do anything – and then it was revealed Taylor paid for it and pretended to not know Tschugguel when it happened! The point is: Many of these characters, it is increasingly coming out, have very unusual and sometimes scary backgrounds and actions. Of course, maybe they’ve repented or thought they had good reasons, but the scandal and the questions whether they are being actually honest or faithful or aren’t motivated by financial gain still remain.
Gosh, I dunno about the stuff you said about the CM people. What I understand about Rafe is that he privately wrote a branching path fantasy novel where some of the failed endings occasionally involve something immoral. That was a stupid thing to do with his time, and a little weird, but he wasn’t *promoting* said failed endings. The failed endings were, apparently, an opportunity for moralizing. The book itself was not pornographic. That’s the official line and I choose to believe it.
Regardless, it should be pointed out that Taylor Marshall really doesn’t have any dirt on him. He’s clearly made some critical errors in his career, namely that college he was dean of that went under, but nothing shady or immoral, and I have no doubt he is a sincere family man before everything else. Whom he showed his manuscripts to is his business, and his behavior regarding the idols isn’t exactly what you said. The original plan was to do it himself. Tschugguel was his wingman, but when Marshall had to change plans and couldn’t be there, he let Tschugguel take the glory, and rightly so. He concealed his involvement because he really didn’t do anything besides give Alexander a pep talk and pay for his airfare.
I don’t know everything above to be exactly as bad as it sounds, but I am saying that the appearance of scandal is absolutely there. You can (of course) give them the benefit of the doubt, and I do watch CM from time to time still. I just say this stuff because it’s still out there and somewhat unresolved and still a bit of a mystery.
Taylor Marshall doesn’t have dirt on him, but listening to him, he did have a somewhat smug attitude toward his cohost that was off-putting. I don’t know if Taylor Marshall was there at the time, but I actually attended Fisher More Academy once (the K-12 branch of Fisher More College), and that was simply a disaster of a year. Major administrators left, so they had students fill in their places after gradebooks were unattended for months. I do think he is sincere though, I just find his attitude off-putting. For Tschugguel, like I said above, “Of course, maybe they’ve repented or thought they had good reasons, but the scandal and the questions whether they are being actually honest or faithful or aren’t motivated by financial gain still remain.”
For me, the biggest scandal I have for Taylor Marshall (and it isn’t much, I still like almost all of his stuff) is how he pretended to not know Tschugguel in the first interview, pretending to even mispronounce his name so as to mislead viewers into thinking they didn’t know each other. It just _looks_ bad.
Yeah, I just had the same thought about him mispronouncing the name. The first interview was staged, I suppose, which was a strange move. But in this case, it seems to have been to conceal his involvement in order to *decrease* his own publicity (an anti-grift, if you will), and promote Tschugguel and his group. This is the opposite of the attention seeking behavior often attributed to Catholic commentators, I think.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Gabriel.
“Church Militant, 1P5, and *some* of these declining websites were websites which insisted that the pope could not be criticized.”
That’s unquestionably an accurate characterization of Church Militant up until recently, but it is quite strange to hear this said of OnePeterFive. Steve and his contributors may be fully certain (and insistent) that Francis is Pope, but the tone has been critical of him from the outset, and only more intensely so as time has gone on.
I don’t know if you noticed my edit correcting that from yesterday underneath my point.
“[EDIT: 1PeterFive did frequently criticize the Pope, but it was also very certain that Francis is pope and there is no way that Benedict is. This may have been off-putting for the same reasons, even if 1P5 did allow such criticism.]”
Love it! Thank you for putting this together. I am with you: I like the “Audience Overlap” graphic. I’d say the “bubble” occupied by CM, Lifesite and Daily Wire could be described as the “Americanists”. Keep up the good work. God bless –
Good analysis, and your comments on CM exactly capture why I don’t go there. It really is just spiritual pornography: the same act over and over, tailored to generate a certain response, with only minor variations. Plus I just got a weird vibe about them, as if they have a particular unspoken agenda which frames their reporting.
I liked Marshall and Gordon for a while, but the recent antics have put me off both of them.
The one correction I’d make is this. You write, “Church Militant, 1P5, and *some* of these declining websites were websites which insisted that the pope could not be criticized.”
This is true of CM, but not at all true of 1P5, which has been consistently and openly critical of Pope Francis since its inception. What might be causing 1P5’s drop in popularity is its stance on Benevacantism, which was the previous great dust-up in online Catholic media. 1P5 maintains (I believe correctly) that while Francis may be a bad pope, he is still the legitimate pope. An increasing number of distraught and frantic Catholics find this conclusion unpalatable.
I’ll be honest, I think you are right on 1P5 upon closer inspection. Another mistake of mine (like using sede instead of bede in the original piece), but like I said, I’m not a Catholic blogger and don’t know the stances of everyone in the sphere. I’ll post a correction soon.
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