Sunday, April 30, 2023

Has Fox Finally Blown It?

Has Fox Finally Blown It?


AP Photo/Richard Drew

How could Fox do this to Tucker and their viewers? That's it. They've finally blown it. Their dominance is over! This will be the moment we all look back on and point to as the moment Fox finally lost their decades of dominance in cable news. Right? 

Well... maybe. 

Let's face it: There have been quite a few moments over the past decade when we've all been told that Fox News had blown it. That Fox had finally angered their viewers for the last time. That Fox News was history. And, somehow, Fox News continues to dominate cable news. 

Now, to be clear, I'm not a Fox apologist. I've never been on the payroll of the network, and my nightly, prime-time news show on Salem News Channel is designed to attract Fox viewers. I'm just pointing out that every time I'm told that Fox News is dead, it feels like that "Dewey Defeats Truman" thing. 

First, it was the removal of Glenn Beck from his highly popular 5 PM slot. The move was met with the same, stunned reaction we see today in the aftermath of the inexplicable Tucker Carlson decision. Beck had turned the 5 PM hour into a hugely successful program that catapulted his fame and helped build the bold, vibrant opposition to the Obama Administration. 

When he and Fox parted ways, there were repeated calls for a boycott and laments of "I'll never watch again" from hard-core, stalwart Beck watchers. 

Beck was replaced by an experimental panel show made up of a handful of Fox contributors. Roger Ailes called the program "The Five," and, well, you know the rest of that story. 

A few years later, Bill O'Reilly was replaced after decades of prime-time dominance. Expert media watchers predicted that finally, CNN and MSNBC would have an opportunity to chip away at Fox's dominance after this obvious blunder. I mean, why would Fox remove their top guy while he was still garnering the highest ratings of any other prime-time host? 

What a mistake! The experts were all sure that this was the chance for Maddow and Anderson Cooper to finally exert their dominance. 

Uh-huh. O'Reilly was replaced by Tucker. You know the rest of that story. 

Then there was election night 2020. After the premature call for Biden in Arizona, a legion of Fox viewers declared they were done with the network, for good this time. They said they'd been betrayed and said they'd only watch Newsmax or OAN or one of the other streaming news options available to them. 

And, no doubt, many did leave Fox for good. But clearly not enough to make a difference to the executives who run the network. Not even close. 

Understand how Fox got here and why they thought they could remove their highest-rated host from prime-time only one year into his multi-year contract extension. 

First, the record I just laid out for you informed the executives in charge that they could shuffle popular hosts in and out without ever feeling any real, negative repercussions. I mean, they've done it before, and it never really hurt them. So it's understandable they could do it again. 

Also, more importantly, their competition basically hands them their nightly dominance on a silver platter. 

CNN and MSNBC are not a danger to Fox because these cable networks have made a conscious decision to completely ignore Fox's audience. I know we often say things like, "Fox beat CNN in the ratings again," but honestly, that's not entirely accurate. Fox only beats CNN if you assume they are competing for the same audience. They are not. 

CNN and MSNBC show open disdain for Fox's viewers. They mock them on a regular basis. They do not behave like they are trying to attract Fox's viewers at all. It's like they've handed Fox a monopoly on a silver platter. 

If CNN were smart, they'd higher some prime-time hosts (or a morning host, I understand there's an opening) who actually communicate to viewers who might be more Fox-inclined. If they really wanted to grow their audience, they wouldn't keep hiring hosts who exhibit open hostility to anyone to the political right of Larry Hogan. 

But they are not smart. Or, they've decided their priority is not to grow their audience... not if it means appealing to those people. 

And now the Tucker decision. Will this be the final straw? Will viewers actually hurt Fox's dominance by turning them off for good, for real?  

Actually, it's a very real possibility this time. 

Partly because the Tucker decision was so sudden and seemed so arbitrary and spiteful, his audience feels completely upended by this event. Also, Tucker's audience, I sense, is not exactly your typical Fox audience, at least not in the same way that O'Reilly's audience was. 

I've run into so many people in real life and on social media who claim that Tucker's was the only show they watched on Fox News. And they will gladly leave and follow Tucker wherever he ends up. 

Also, the Tucker firing seems fundamentally unfair. Fox viewers don't like it when "one of ours" gets treated like garbage. And that's what this feels like. 

And finally, the media landscape now is very different than it was just a couple of years ago. With the rise of digital, over-the-top delivery, news options have grown well beyond the offering on a typical cable or satellite box. With Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, or any other app-based streaming device, news consumers can access The Blaze, Daily Wire, Real America's Voice, and, yes, the mighty Salem News Channel and never turn a cable box on again. 

The information world is at the fingertips and demand of the news consumer, and that's a very good, liberating thing. 

Wherever Tucker wants to go to deliver his nightly program, the audience will find him. And they'll see that they don't need dinosaur cable anymore. 

And, by the way, Fox knows this. It's why they've spent so much time and capital building their own digital network, Fox Nation. The problem is Tucker's content on that platform was dominant and their top draw. Now what?

It's bizarre to think it, but the guy who just got fired from his multi-year, multi-million dollar job is in the catbird seat, and the corporation that fired him is the player in this scenario that really must fight to come out ahead. 

They may very well do just that; they certainly have in the past. But, this time... maybe not.

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