Fox News Is Facing Ratings Battles on Multiple Fronts as the Biden Era Nears
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The cable juggernaut’s programming shake-up, with a rotating cast of opinion hosts replacing Martha MacCallum at 7 p.m., comes as viewers are flocking to CNN and MSNBC following the Capitol insurrection and as Newsmax and OAN chip away from the right.

With only a week remaining in Donald Trump’s presidency, Fox News is preparing to transition from the outgoing White House’s media defense arm to one of the incoming administration’s chief critics. In doing so, the network is placing an even bigger emphasis on its opinion programming at the expense of its news division. In a Monday release, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott announced that the network is replacing Martha MacCallum’s 7 p.m. news show with an opinion program: Fox News Primetime, which will feature a rotating cast of hosts.

MacCallum’s “news side” program, The Story, has been criticized for boosting right-wing narratives and has been a far cry from the widely respected reporting and fact-checking of the president that Shep Smith used to provide at 3 p.m., her new time slot. But she also didn’t pound the MAGA drum as hard as Greg Kelly, the Newsmax host who beat her last month in the prized age 25-54 ratings demo—an unexpected win for the smaller conservative channel against the long-running cable juggernaut. “I think it scared them to their core when Greg Kelly beat Martha in the key demo,” a current Fox staffer told the Daily Beast. “I don’t think anyone took Newsmax seriously until that.” MacCallum appears to have been hit hardest by Newsmax’s sudden, postelection emergence as Trump blasted Fox News for accurately calling the election for Joe Biden in November and promoted more loyal TV competitors.

According to a CNN Business report, the change comes after Fox insiders became all too aware that its core nightly audience was “pissed” at Fox News for siding with the reality of Trump’s electoral defeat, rather than following along with the president and his new right-wing favorites, who refused to admit such a fact until the very last second. Additionally, Rupert Murdoch was reportedly directly involved in the postelection, pre-inauguration lineup changes. Fox staffers went so far as to admit to CNN’s Brian Stelter that these desperate changes are evidence enough that the network’s little brother competitors are defeating Fox at its own game, with one outright saying that “Newsmax won.” (Still, MacCallum topped all 7 p.m. competitors for all of 2020, as Fox News enjoyed a a record-setting year atop the cable-news pack.)

Now, rather than devoting more airtime to news coverage, the network appears to be going all in on the kinds of opinion programming that Trump watched on a nightly basis and consistently promoted on Twitter. The change signals that its current plan to win back the viewers lost to Newsmax and OAN over the past two months is to simply go head-to-head with the right-wing agitprop that airs on its smaller competitors throughout the prime-time hours. (After Fox’s postelection ratings fallout, it attempted to revive itself by showcasing opinion content from top hosts like Tucker Carlson during its “news side” hours.) Also in Monday’s programming shake-up, the current 3 p.m. host, anchor Bill Hemmer, is being sent back down to the 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. hours, the network’s “news side” minor league of sorts, where he will coanchor with Dana Perino, who is losing her 2 p.m. slot.

Fox is not only taking a beating from the right. Last Friday, CNN and MSNBC scored ratings wins over Fox News, marking the first time in 20 years that both achieved that feat at the same time, as first reported by Mediaite. (Fox News declined to comment.) CNN’s viewer count for its Friday prime-time hours averaged 4.36 million overall and 1.31 million in the key demo, followed by MSNBC’s 4.32 million and 838,000, respectively. For the first time in two decades, Fox found itself in last place, with an average of 2.98 million viewers overall and 513,000 in the 25-54 demo.

It is yet to be seen if the network’s recent viewership dip will be a long-term problem, or if it’s able to get back on top once Trump is out of the picture and Biden takes center stage as the new supervillain for Fox News and conservative-media consumers. But in a fitting twist, it appears that the news cycle consumed by Trump supporters storming the Capitol building was responsible for the increased viewer interest in CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage, which suggests that the same kinds of pro-Trump die-hards who are turning off Fox—namely because the network did not uniformly go along with the president’s “stolen election” loyalty oath—also inadvertently created the content that gave its liberal competitors a leg up in the ratings wars.

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