Last weekend I attended a conservative political forum moderated by Hugh Hewitt. During the reception I overheard the tail end of a conversation between two attendees:
Middle-aged male: “It’s like Fox News is suddenly imploding.”
Middle-aged female: “All the stars are leaving. Where are we going to go? I hate CNN.”
Obviously, this pessimism stems from a recent Fox News tsunami of bad PR and surprise personnel changes at heretofore the highest rated cable news network.
Hearing that exchange prompted me to investigate whether their concerns are warranted because as a regular Fox News viewer, I too had similar thoughts. That was until I saw data from Nielson Media Research and learned, Fox News is having its highest ratings year and is stronger than ever!
In fact, August was the fourth month in 2016 when Fox News Channel (FNC) was number one in basic cable ratings for both primetime and total day with total viewers.
If you are unfamiliar with the term “basic cable,” it is a wide range of programming with channels like TNT and ESPN that are included in your cable service without an extra “premium” charge. In other words, FNC does not just top CNN in ratings, but all the popular basic cable channels.
Now into September, The Wrap, a site that specializes in ratings, reports:
Fox News was the most-watched channel among all of cable in total day viewers, averaging 1.29 million for the week of Sept. 5 -11, nearly beating CNN and MSNBC combined.
These latest ratings are highly significant because they prove once again that FNC viewers have stayed loyal since July 21. That was when FNC chairman and CEO Roger Ailes stepped down after sexual harassment allegations unleashing a cavalcade of bad press.
Furthermore, there is a perception that major talent is leaving FNC en masse. Once again, here are the facts:
Yes, on September 6, Greta Van Susteren, host of “On the Record” since 2002, abruptly departed FNC and her highly rated 7 PM (EST) show. But, without missing a beat and illustrating FNC’s strong bench of talent, Brit Hume was immediately named host, and the ratings have increased!
Here is how The Wrap reported this unexpected turn of events:
Fox News’ total day victory was helped by “On the Record with Brit Hume,” which averaged 2.2 million viewers, up five percent from the previous week and up eight percent compared to the rest of 2016. Hume took over Fox News’ “On the Record” earlier this month following Greta Van Susteren’s surprise decision to leave the network.
Speaking of that “strong bench of talent,” regular FNC viewers are accustomed to seeing a parade of extremely knowledgeable, attractive, opinionated, and entertaining personalities every hour of the day. Sure there are the big prime time stars, but the sheer number of lesser stars is equally impressive.
Moreover, what also keeps FNC on top of the ratings heap is its successful track record of creating new shows with an ensemble of lesser stars and rising stars.
Good examples that showcase FNC’s sheer volume of star power are shows like “The Five” and “Outnumbered.” Besides being entertaining and informative, both offer viewers the opportunity to get to know the on-air personalities in a group setting that helps to identify future breakout stars.
With “breakout stars” in mind, this week FNC announced a new political analysis show, “Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What” starring Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt. The show will air weekends through the election. And, if successful, the sky is the limit since historically FNC has never been shy about shaking up its lineup and there is no doubt that Perino’s career trajectory is accelerating.
Back to the “implosion” talk, with most of that centering on the “imminent departure” of Sean Hannity. The truth is as CNN/Money reports, “Fox’s 10 p.m. host, Sean Hannity, is under contract until 2020” — an eternity in the news business.
Highlighting another concern of the “Fox is imploding” crowd, that same CNN/Money report said:
We have a deep bench” is a mantra among the bosses. And it is accurate. But the network faces a big challenge next year when the contracts for two of its remaining prime-time hosts – [Megyn] Kelly and Bill O’Reilly — are set to expire.
Of course, expiring contracts are a cause for concern since both hosts are so popular. But, in any high-profile business such as news, sports, or entertainment, contracts are always expiring, and adjustments are made. Although, if Megyn Kelly does exit FNC in July of 2017 when her contract expires, rest assured there will be a rising star who will come off the “deep bench” and fill her high heels. (Or maybe even someone from outside FNC.) This should be no cause for alarm because it is the nature of the business!
The same with Bill O’Reilly if he decides to retire or move on. After all, FNC is first a news organization. It is not the Hannity, Kelly, O’Reilly channel, although they are the prime time stars. The key point is FNC’s dominance as a 24-hour news organization is the source of its real strength. FNC has earned a reputation as “the most trusted name in news” despite its reputation among liberals as a totally partisan news outlet.
Meanwhile, all my liberal friends and family laugh at my husband’s and my affection for FNC, and it is often a bone of contention at family gatherings. I try to tell them that FNC boasts the largest audience of independent viewers in cable news. I try to convince them that FNC is more “fair and balanced” because all sides of issues are presented. But still, they refuse to watch and all I see are eyes rolling followed by a chorus of “we love you anyway.”
Now, even the liberals who love me may be forced to tune in now that FNC has reached a new milestone. Chris Wallace, who hosts “Fox News Sunday,” will be the sole moderator of the third and final presidential debate to be held October 19 in Las Vegas. And what a spectacle that will be!
Cross-posted at BizPac Review