The Fox News-Dominion lawsuit has been the source of a lot of outrage amid the revelations that Fox News hosts were lending credence to the 2020 stolen election conspiracy theory while simultaneously doubting it behind the scenes.
This lawsuit, which could cost Fox News a lot of money, has exposed one of the worst aspects of life in media: The need to be someone other than yourself in front of a microphone or camera in order to keep hold of your audience. At the corporate level, it seems that Fox News personalities and staffers were worried about losing their audience to Newsmax if they didn’t support – or, at least, appear to consider that the 2020 election was stolen.
The Wall Street Journal has a big piece out today on that subject, and it’s clear that in the heat of the moment, Fox was panicking – though, ultimately, those fears quickly subsided.
Initial ratings data suggested there was some cause for concern. Newsmax typically had tiny ratings, yet during the fourth quarter of 2020—when the election took place—it averaged 242,000 prime-time viewers, a sixfold increase from the previous quarter, according to Nielsen data. Fox News still had much higher ratings, with around 3.5 million prime-time viewers, but took Newsmax’s encroachment on its turf seriously, the court documents show.
Newsmax even topped one million viewers during the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. hour on Nov. 12, 2020. A smaller right-wing channel, Herring Networks Inc.’s One America News Network, also experienced ratings gains at the time.
Newsmax wasn’t able to sustain the gains, as Fox News made programming changes to win back viewers and the election-fraud story line faded. In January, DirecTV dropped Newsmax, denting its reach. Several Republican senators wrote to the satellite-television company, criticizing its move. DirecTV has said Newsmax is seeking an unreasonable increase in distribution fees.
The upshot: This year, Newsmax’s viewership has declined markedly, and it is averaging 111,000 viewers in prime time and 93,000 for the total day, according to Nielsen. A spokesman for Newsmax declined to comment.
Fox’s worries were ultimately unfounded, a corporate decision made that cost the network credibility amid its panic that the competition – other networks in the right-wing space, not other major networks – was growing and becoming a threat.
However, neither Newsmax nor One America News have the corporate backing or the momentum that Fox has been building over the last few decades. Established in 1996, Fox offered something no other network did at the time – a different perspective. Realizing that people were looking for a news organization that didn’t offer the same “conventional wisdom” and center-left perspective, the network gave voters an alternative.
The business strategy was successful, but it took a very long time to get there. Fox News had been around for nearly 20 years when Newsmax was established in 2014, and One America News started only a year earlier.
But, because Fox has been caught up in this lawsuit and exposed as either hypocrites or heretics (depending on your perspective), they have lost some support among viewers. This bit comes from Variety and a poll they shared the results of.
More than a fifth of Fox News Channel viewers are less trusting of the cable network in the wake of publicly disclosed text messages and emails from Fox executives and on-air personalities, according to a new survey.
But only 9% of Fox News viewers say they aren’t watching the network as much as they used to, per research provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by consumer insights specialists Maru Group.
A representative for Fox News told VIP+, “There has been no impact to advertising, with no advertisers dropping or pausing.”
But there’s more, with Variety also noting that “more than half of Fox News viewers who said they were aware of the deposition and texts said they continue to trust Fox News — nearly double the percentage of the group that said they trust the network less.”
When you look at the ratings for Fox, it’s clear they aren’t suffering. They are still dominating in almost all hours of the day, even in the 25-64 demographic.
Despite discovery in the Dominion lawsuit, Fox News hasn’t really lost any of its audience, but a chunk of the audience has moved on from the stolen election claims, Variety noted.
In addition, 13% of Fox News viewers no longer believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen after reading communications in which the network’s stars, including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, were making allegations on TV regarding voter fraud that was inconsistent with what they were saying privately.
That is a fairly big shift for that audience, but also shows something that the other major networks still don’t seem to get: People like the product that Fox is putting out there. Fox was worried they’d lose their audience, and they chased what they thought the audience wanted. But in the long run, Fox has survived and even thrived because of its original mission.
You may not like that Fox is surviving so well, but they are. What’s more, this exposure from the Dominion lawsuit really doesn’t give them any incentive to do anything other than what they have been doing and people will still watch. Meanwhile, people continue to flee CNN and MSNBC can’t seem to grow all that much. And as much as they want to whine and moan about “misinformation” and the like, those networks have consistently chosen a side and always come out looking worse for it.
The bottom line here is that these networks shouldn’t be chasing audiences. CNN chased the anti-Trump sentiment for six years and their ratings have collapsed. MSNBC has chased academic progressivism and they have hit their ceiling. Fox chased conservatism, but they had broad appeal and got a bigger audience share.
It wasn’t until Fox News chased a very specific target audience that they lost their way. But their audience is also very forgiving, and they have stuck with them. That’s why Fox will continue to be a top-performing brand. Much to the chagrin of the others.