‘Fox & Friends’ Makes New Bid for TV’s Morning-Show Ad Dollars (EXCLUSIVE)

Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade are in high demand on set as the anchors of Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.” Starting Wednesday, however, viewers of the morning program are going to spend some time watching them motoring home, thanks to an advertising deal.

In taped video segments being shown today, tomorrow and Friday, Kilmeade is spotted traveling in Massapequa with his dogs;  Earhardt is found outside the Fox News studio; and Doocy picking up his family in Jupiter, Florida. Each host will be shown in a Dodge Durango SRT, and the vignettes will try to spotlight the room the vehicle has for family and luggage – all as the nation moves closer to the holidays. On-air graphics will tell viewers the segment is sponsored by Dodge.

“Fox & Friends” hasn’t been known for embedding advertisers into on-air sponsorships, but executives at Fox News Media hope to change that notion in days to come, says Jeff Collins, executive vice president of ad sales at the Fox Corporation-owned unit. “I think you are going to see a lot more from us in this area moving forward,” he says in an interview.

And with that, “Fox & Friends” enters a raging battle among TV’s morning programs for big-dollar advertising packages. To be sure, the Fox News show carries plenty of commercials. But many TV networks gain millions of dollars from devising in-show opportunities in their A.M. mainstays to highlight advertisers. Citigroup sponsors a summer concert series on NBC’s “Today.” Toyota brings the popular “Eye Opener” segment to viewers of “CBS This Morning” and its logo festoons the show’s on-air waiting room. On Tuesday, viewers of ABC’s “Good Morning America” were notified by an on-air chyron that a cooking segment led by actor Tiffani Thiessen was sponsored by Wells Fargo (which also sponsored an online article about the recipe she presented).

These sorts of ad deals often require careful handling. Starbucks struck a deal with MSNBC in 2009 that put its name and logo alongside that of the network’s popular “Morning Joe.” Viewers grew accustomed to being told that the show was “brewed by Starbucks.” But there were some fraught moments, such as the time then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz appeared for a minutes-long interview with co-anchor Mika Brzezinski in 2011 without an on-air note from the hosts or the network that his company was a significant sponsor of the show.

“Viewers will get it,” says Collins, as the driving segments will be followed by an on-air “billboard” calling out the Dodge sponsorship as well as a traditional Dodge commercial. Fiat Chrysler, the owner of Dodge, was not able to make executives available for comment.

Fox News will typically not create these sorts of sponsorships around segments devoted to hard news and politics, says Collins. “We have very strong standards-and-practices guidelines.” But he notes Fox News offers regular coverage of softer topics such as health and wellness, home improvement and sports. “That’s where we can do this,” he adds.

Fox News has something to offer Madison Avenue’s morning advertisers. “Fox & Friends” delivers more viewers than most prime-time entertainment programs on other cable outlets – yet costs less than ad slots on broadcast-network morning programs. A 30-second spot on “Fox & Friends” cost $3,400 in 2018, according to Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending. Meanwhile, a similar unit in NBC’s “Today” went for $42,700 and one in ABC’s “Good Morning America” cost $34,800.

The Dodge sponsorship is one of the first alliances Collins, who joined Fox in May, is calling attention to publicly. The former CNN ad-sales executive , who was recently chief revenue officer at Viant, a digital-advertising firm owned by Meredith, is trying to snare new dollars for Fox News just as the nation is poised to enter the frenzied 2020 election cycle and Madison Avenue is grappling with the migration of live primetime entertainment audiences to streaming video. Many news programs command sizable live audiences and TV networks are likely to put a new spotlight on news offerings in weeks to come.

“We anticipate we are going to see some strong interest from what are typically more entertainment-focused categories,” says Collins, such as movie studios and quick-service restaurants.

Fox News has had to grapple with scrutiny around remarks made by some of its primetime hosts in recent months, and pressure from advocacy groups on sponsors of those shows. But Collins says some clients may be willing to “dip their toes” in those slots in months ahead.

Fox Corp. has made other on-air personnel available for advertisers. The company has talked to sponsors about working with its Fox Sports announcers in the recent past.  In one recent instance, the idea generated significant chatter. In 2017, Fox Sports’ Terry Bradshaw appeared on set with a stain on his shirt, then quickly moved into a taped piece that was a commercial showing him working frantically to remove it using Procter & Gamble’s Tide.

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