Fox News Channel typically delivers news headlines and popular opinion programming. On Wednesday, the 21st Century Fox-owned had something else to send – a message.
As more than 100 ad executives nibbled on Nutella crepes and mixed custom-made Bloody Marys, the cable-news outlet’s top executives and some of its best known anchors made a case for advertising across the network as activity around the 2020 presidential election draws near.
Not running commercials on Fox News means missing out on millions of consumers, said Marianne Gambelli, president of ad sales for the network during a presentation at its New York headquarters. The outlet “must be included in your media plan to ensure you reach this unduplicated audience,” she said.
Fox News made its Madison Avenue presentation as it has been parrying with the latest in a series of actions from liberal advocacy groups aimed at curbing ad support for some of its best-known hosts. Both Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro have come under scrutiny in recent days – Pirro for remarks about a Minnesota congresswoman and Carlson for offensive comments he made in the past on a talk-radio show that were revived by Media Matters, a monitor of conservative media outlets. Fox News condemned Pirro’s remarks and Carlson said Monday night he had the backing of Fox News and “will never bow to the mob.” Some direct-response advertisers indicated they would pause media buys on Pirro’s Saturday-night show.
Approximately 30 people organized by Media Matters and other groups started a small protest outside the building, holding signs that took aim at Carlson and Fox News host Sean Hannity.
“We know there’s a lot of noise out there,” said Gambelli on Wednesday. “But the voices of the few should not prevent” advertisers from considering Fox News’ big audience, she added. In an interview, the sales executive said clients typically move their commercials to Fox News’ daytime schedule. “This is where they go to pause, with the intent to return,” she said.
In a presentation, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told advertisers the network wanted to make new outreach and forge better connections, and be “open and transparent.” She reminded the assemblage that Fox News had “invested millions in newsgathering” and reworked some of its studio facilities as well as its digital operations. Clips played of Fox News anchor Chris Wallace interviewing Russian president Vladimir Putin and anchor Martha MacCallum interviewing then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – two of the networks bigger “gets” in recent months.
Keeping the ad dollars flowing at Fox News is critical – not only for the network, but for its parent company. 21st Century Fox is widely expected next week to complete the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. The remaining company, known as Fox Corporation, will rely on not only Fox News and Fox Business Network, but Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. The Fox News unit has contributed around 20% of the overall company’s operating profit. In a pared-down structure, it might be more. And while many analysts focus on the revenue Fox News derives from affiliates, its ad dollars will also be important after the sale.
Fox News Channel took in $1.02 billion in net advertising revenue in 2018, according to estimates from Kagan, a market-research firm that is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, and that figure is seen climbing to nearly $1.07 billion in 2019. Despite some recent ad boycotts aimed at Carlson and Laura Ingraham, 21st Century Fox said its advertising revenue rose 6% in its most recent fiscal quarter, largely due to better pricing at Fox News.
Executives made no specific mention of recent controversies and offered no apology for the hosts. Instead, they made the point that Fox News viewers tend to watch the network for good chunks of time – many watch for an average of 32 minutes – and think well of the sponsors of the programming. “Our connection with our viewers has never been stronger,” Gambelli said, noting that the large viewership for the network’s programs meant no matter who runs for the Oval Office in 2020, “everyone will be watching Fox News.” She made a pitch for marketers of automobiles, technology, financial services and pharmaceuticals to consider the network. She also said she is eager to bring retailers to advertise on Fox News, suggesting that stores that sell over-the-counter and prescription drugs might find value in the network’s viewership.
Primetime host Laura Ingraham and anchors Bret Baier, Harris Faulkner, Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto sat for a panel during which they discussed issues leading up to the next run for the White House as well as their connection to viewers. Viewers “trust the brands that advertise on Fox,” Ingraham said. “They are grateful to the companies that advertise.” Both Ingraham and Cavuto suggested antics by President Trump, whose interest in Fox News Channel has become a salient feature of his time in office, could get in the way of the way he is perceived by the American people. “President Trump has stepped on his own message way too often,” said Ingraham.
Protesters and media buyers were kept apart. While organizers held forth in front of the Fox headquarters, attendees of the Fox event left via a different entrance, with bags of doughnuts as a parting remembrance. Both sides had food for thought.