Trump’s Fox News war pits him against resilient network
Fox News faces an array of challenges after President Donald Trump leaves office: a potential ratings decline, Trump’s tweets attacking the network, and the threat that he could start a rival media outlet.
Yet Fox News has faced many obstacles during its 18 years as the No. 1 cable news network, and has managed to maintain its lead. It has weathered a sexual-harassment scandal, the death of founder Roger Ailes, the departure of stars Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, and the arrival of right-leaning rivals, Newsmax and One America News Network.
Few observers expect Trump’s barrage of attacks to knock Fox News off its throne anytime soon.
“They have the distribution, talent and resources to be successful no matter who is president,” said Christopher Balfe, chief executive officer of Red Seat Ventures, which helps build businesses for media personalities like former HLN star Nancy Grace.
Still, Fox News’s resilience could be put to the test like never before. Axios reported Thursday, citing unidentified sources, that Trump is planning a subscription-based streaming platform similar to Fox Nation, a $6-a-month service launched two years ago.
Meanwhile, Trump is stepping up his attacks against the network after an election loss that he has steadfastly rejected. Fox News, like nearly all major media, has declared Joe Biden the presidential winner.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that Fox’s daytime ratings have “completely collapsed” because the network “forgot what made them successful, what got them there.” Fox News was the biggest difference between the 2016 and 2020 elections because the network forgot its “Golden Goose,” he said.
Trump also amplified a series of Twitter posts from users criticizing Fox News as insufficiently loyal to the president and urging conservatives to switch to competitors such as Newsmax.
Shares of Fox News’s parent company declined more than 6% Thursday amid the attacks and speculation that Trump might back or launch a rival news service. The stock was up 2.2% to $26.19 on Friday, leaving it down 29% for the year.
Newsmax, which was founded by Trump ally Christopher Ruddy, has seen an uptick in viewers in recent days. It still hasn’t declared Biden the president-elect and has used that decision to curry favor with Trump supporters who are skeptical of the results and angry that Fox News made an early call for the Democrat in the key state of Arizona.
On Thursday, Ruddy tweeted that Trump called him and “congratulated Newsmax on our ratings explosion.” Trump is “watching Newsmax,” he said, “and also wants every vote counted!”
Trump’s relationship with America’s most-watched news channel has waxed and waned over the years. He was a frequent Fox News guest long before he decided to run for president, and the network’s evening commentators have been ardent supporters of him throughout his time in office. With the ties fraying, Fox would be wise to patch things up quickly, said Jon Klein, a former president of CNN’s U.S. operations and current co-chairman of the streaming company Tapp Media LLC.
“Many Fox News viewers adore President Trump,” Klein said. “If Trump undertook a concerted ongoing anti-Fox News campaign, that would have a real impact on Fox’s numbers because those Trump loyalists will do as they’re told.”
Still, the real estate mogul behind a book called “The Art of the Deal” could be using his attacks against Fox as a bargaining tool, Klein said.
“Everything for him is about the negotiation,” Klein said. “Once the dust settles, I’m sure he will make the best deal he can, whether it’s starting his own company or getting paid a lot of money to appear on someone’s else air.”
Trump has continued to praise Fox News’s prime-time hosts, which he sees as more sympathetic to his cause. On Thursday night, he recommended a segment by commentator Sean Hannity about voting machines.
Fox management remains upbeat that it can weather the latest turmoil. On an earnings call last week, CEO Lachlan Murdoch pointed out that the network has led the cable news industry through a number of administrations.
“We love competition,” Murdoch said. “We have always thrived with competition, and we have strong competition now.”
In response to Trump’s tweets on Thursday, Fox News said its daytime audience is up 62% – averaging 2.7 million viewers for the seven days through Wednesday – from the same period last year, citing Nielsen data. The network also was the most-watched on election night, with an audience of 14.1 million.
If Trump wants to start his own media company, he could follow the path of former Fox News star Glenn Beck, relying on his large base of grassroots supporters to pay him monthly subscriptions.
But while Beck was able to attract tens of thousands of subscribers to TheBlaze, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin shut down her online TV channel only a year after its launch.
Trump could create a meaningful media business with his own streaming service – which would be less of a major threat to Fox.
“I think a lot of people would sign up for a $5 or $6 a month subscription service to watch his show and support him,” Balfe said. “I don’t think it’s a Fox News channel competitor, but it could be a very successful streaming channel.”