After Tucker Carlson’s exit, here’s what could be next for Fox News

Fox News shocked viewers and media pundits this week when the network announced that it was parting ways with its biggest star, Tucker Carlson. Yet while his departure risks alienating loyal viewers of the popular host, it could also open the door for the broadcaster to attract more mainstream advertisers and bolster its bottom line.

Carlson’s program had previously been the focus of advertiser boycotts, with major companies such as AstraZeneca and Pacific Life backing away from his show due to his sexist and racist comments. But as Fox News’ top draw, Carlson continued on unscathed — until Monday. 

The exact reasons for his departure remain unclear, although The Wall Street Journal (which is owned by Fox News corporate parent Fox Corp.) reported that “vulgar, offensive messages” about his colleagues that were unearthed in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit had contributed to his ouster. Whatever the case, Carlson’s absence in the 8 p.m. hour could open the door for Fox News to attract the type of advertisers that have been missing from the primetime slot, analysts said. 

“[T]he long game here is probably the ad game,” wrote Huber Research analyst Doug Arthur in a research note this week. “The highly partisan cable news shows — on both sides — have weak advertising and questionable ad mix. Direct response seems to make up a lot of the ads.”

Direct response ads are spots that ask viewers to contact the company to order a product, such as by calling a toll-free number or ordering a product from a website featured in the ad. These types of ads range from old-school “infomercials,” like those for the Snuggie or Thighmaster, to current ads from the likes of My Pillow, the company run by election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

Direct response ads typically aren’t used by the nation’s top marketers, such as Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble, big corporations that rely on branding strategies featuring 30-second commercials on mainstream TV shows, typically with higher production values.

On “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” advertisers had largely dwindled to spots from either Fox News or Fox Nation or offbeat direct marketing companies by the end of 2021, according to industry publication TVRev. My Pillow had the second-largest number of ads on the show after Fox News/Fox Nation, the site found.

“Less ‘My Pillow’ stuff”

Direct advertising was called out as “softer” in Fox Corp.’s most recent earnings call, an issue the company said had hurt its news division. 

“Blue-chip advertising — or where the money is — seem to overtly shy away from the highly partisan cable news shows,” Arthur wrote. “Advertising trends at Fox’s cable segment have been weak/disappointing — despite leading ratings.”

At the same time, like other broadcasters Fox News has been hurt by cord-cutting, with millions of consumers canceling their cable subscriptions in favor of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. That puts a premium on boosting affiliate fees, which are paid by cable companies to TV networks and which are based on the number of customers who receive a particular network.

The double-whammy of weaker direct marketing advertising and greater pressure on affiliate fees may make a switch to a less controversy-prone anchor more appetizing, as it could help lure back marketers with deeper pockets.

“[A] shift away from fanatical conspiracy content, less “My Pillow” stuff, might begin to re-attract big-time advertisers,” Arthur said. 

Ratings plunge

For Fox News, of course, the obvious risk is that it won’t be able to replicate the blockbuster ratings of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Early evidence indicates the audience for that hour has plunged since Carlson’s last show on Friday. 

The 8 p.m. slot, now held by “Fox News Tonight,” drew 2.6 million on Monday night and 1.7 million viewers on Tuesday night, the first two days following Carlson’s ouster, according to AdWeek. That represents a decline of 2% and 36%, respectively, from the 2.65 million viewers who watched Carlson’s final show on April 21. 

Some Fox News viewers are vowing to boycott the network to protest the host’s departure, decrying the network’s decision as “woke.” 

“Fox News sure will learn not to go woke!!! BOYCOTT BOYCOTT!!!,” one user wrote on Twitter. 

Still, analysts doubt that Fox News is in immediate danger of losing its leadership in primetime, pointing to the network’s ability to weather the loss of previous stars such as Bill O’Reilly, who exited Fox in 2017 after sexual harassment allegations.

What’s next for Carlson?

Carlson will likely have plenty of opportunities within the conservative realm, with suitors such as One America News Network, a Fox News competitor, extending an open invitation on Twitter. The network wrote, “Maybe Fox News’ loss could be OANN’s gain.”   

By contrast, it’s “inconceivable” that Carlson would join a mainstream media network, Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report, which analyzes television news, told CBS MoneyWatch.

“He has already tried and failed at CNN & MSNBC & PBS … and that was in the days when he was a conventional conservative, before he became an unreconstructed white supremacist propagandist,” Tyndall said in an email. “If Shepard Smith and Megyn Kelly — much more mainstream figures — could not make the transition from [Fox News Channel] to NBC News successfully, there is no chance that a radical like Carlson can.”

Fox News and Tucker Carlson part ways and Don Lemon says he was fired from CNN


Instead, Carlson is more likely to join a “fringe radical right media operation, such as NewsMax or OANN,” or create his own media brand similar to Glenn Beck, who created BlazeTV after leaving Fox News, Tyndall said. Meanwhile, Beck has offered a job to Carlson. 

Tyndall said he believes creating a Tucker Carlson-branded company might be the best fit for the former host. “If he decided to set up his own brand, Carlson could attract the capital and the audience required without any help from a pre-existing media operation,” he said.

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