Fox News CEO Ailes reupped

Topper to remain through 2001

NEW YORK — Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News, is guaranteed a job through January 2001, as a result of a deal announced Monday by Rupert Murdoch and Fox TV chairman Chase Carey.

Ailes has headed Fox News since February 1996 and last month celebrated the one-year anniversary of the fledgling news organization’s launch at a glitzy party outside News Corp.’s Manhattan headquarters.

Fox execs — and more importantly, Murdoch — seem pleased with Ailes’ performance to date, lauding the fact that the potential universe for Fox News viewers has risen to 23 million households (as a result of the Time Warner cable deal) under Ailes’ watch. The new deal could be seen as a vote of confidence, as Ailes’ 1996 contract was to run through 2000, and Fox decided to renegotiate early and keep Ailes on the Fox front an additional year — for more dough.

“Roger and his staff have done an incredible job of creating from scratch a top-notch new organization…and (we) look forward to the next few years when the News Channel will reach in excess of 50 million homes,” Carey said in a press release.

But industry watchers pointed Monday to Nielsen numbers and speculated that with Fox News’ primetime cable lineup being seen in an average of only 27,000 homes (as compared to MSNBC’s 85,000 and CNN’s 541,000), Ailes may be fighting a losing battle. Fox may be proud of being available domestically in 23 million homes, but with MSNBC (which launched 3 months before Fox) already in 38 million homes, and CNN reaching 72 million, Fox looks weak. With operating losses reportedly running over $100 million a year, one independent news producer wondered how long Murdoch would remain happy.

“You never know. It’s classic Murdoch to just get in there and occupy the market,” a CNN exec offered. “Maybe it’ll be dormant for years — or not.”

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