James Murdoch Says Fox News Ratings Are ‘Stronger Than Ever’ After Roger Ailes’ Exit

James Murdoch
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James Murdoch maintains that Fox News not only survived the ouster of Roger Ailes, but that the cable news network’s viewership actually improved after his stormy exit last summer.

“From a ratings perspective, it’s been stronger than ever,” said Murdoch, who serves as 21st Century Fox CEO.

There were lessons to be gleaned from the sexual harassment scandal that engulfed Ailes, Murdoch told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference on Wednesday. Namely, that corporations need to be “totally transparent” and to “move quickly” when dealing with a crisis. After former network anchor Gretchen Carlson accused Ailes of making sexually suggestive comments, Fox launched an internal investigation that found other instances of harassment and inappropriate comments involving other employees. After 20 years in charge of the cable news pioneer, Ailes was out a little over two weeks after news first broke. Though Ailes helped create Fox News’ sharp-elbowed, fiercely partisan style of covering politics and the day’s events, Murdoch said that “…the business is bigger than any one person.”

That’s not the only shakeup roiling the Fox media landscape. Last summer, the company moved studio chief Jim Gianopulos out of the film division and elevated co-chair Stacey Snider to the top job. Gianopulos was originally kicked upstairs in a nebulous advisory capacity, but opted to leave the company before his contract was set to expire. James Murdoch indicated that he was unhappy with the studio’s management, citing a lack of creative direction and momentum. The company would have a hit like last spring’s “Deadpool,” only to follow it up with under-performers and flops such as “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Ice Age: Collision Course,” he said.

“Fundamentally, we have to make better movies,” said Murdoch. “We have to focus on the creative process more consistently.”

He argued, however, that Fox has been more economical than its competitors. The studio hasn’t suffered a “Lone Ranger” or “Ben-Hur”-size bomb.

“What we’ve avoided — which some studios have not — is massive losses,” said Murdoch.

After a detente with theater owners, Murdoch indicated that the studio was “eager” to reignite the contentious debate over how to make movies more accessible on home entertainment platforms at an earlier date. Currently, major film releases have to wait roughly three months between their theatrical debut and their sales and rental launch.

“Our business rules are of no interest to families that just want to see the movie,” he said, adding, “Things have been stuck for too long.”