Sean Hannity sometimes tells younger colleagues at Fox News Channel that he is “the bridge between two generations of Fox” because he has been part of its primetime lineup since 1996. Now he may serve a similar purpose for a third.
Fox News will next week bring Hannity to the world of video-streaming, launching “Hannity on Air” on its new Fox Nation subscription broadband service. The program will give viewers a look at the opening monologue of his daily radio show, a segment that’s typically 15 minutes to 17 minutes in length. Hannity has been expected to take part in the venture. The program will debut on Wednesday, January 30, and is expected to post most weekdays in the afternoon.
“I was perhaps a little slower to it than I should have been” says Hannity of getting some of his content distributed in so-called “over the top” fashion. But he now realizes having a presence on broadband is “critical,” he says in an interview while sitting behind his desk in his office at Fox News’ Manhattan headquarters just 90 minutes or so before his primetime program is set to start. “You can’t not be” involved in streaming, he adds.
Hannity’s coming work for Fox Nation is just the latest signal of the importance of streaming for the entire media industry. The host is the 21st Century Fox-owned outlet’s most-watched personality, notching a decade as a solo anchor after working for many years opposite Alan B. Colmes. He is part of a growing parade of talent finding its way to subscription video-on-demand as traditional media outlets rush to mine the same vein that has propelled Netflix, Amazon and Hulu into must-have entertainment portals.
“Media is changing fast,” says Hannity, who has hosted the most-watched cable-news program for the past two years, “and I especially think that traditional television viewing has changed forever. Netflix and Amazon and all of these other options that people are offering – there are so many choices now. The safest two businesses to be in are live sports and live news, and I really think they are the ones people will go to for appointment viewing. Otherwise, you can just watch on demand any time you want, and people will just choose that.”
Fox Nation launched in late November, and since that time streaming has come under even sharper focus. NBCUniversal last week unveiled plans to launch a broadband service in 2020, shaking up its top executive ranks to make it happen. Viacom on Tuesday said it would purchase ad-supported streaming serviced Pluto TV for $340 million. Disney’s ESPN said its recently launched ESPN+ subscription-video service notched more than 500,000 new customers last weekend as it launched its first UFC card on the outlet. CBS noted robust activity for its streaming “CBS All Access” thanks to the availability of a new season of “Star Trek: Discovery” and an NFL divisional championship.
And, more notably perhaps, conservative-leaning TV company Sinclair Broadcast Group last week unveiled the launch of an ad-supported subscription-video-on-demand streaming service that is slated to included content from its stations.
Hannity says he became convinced of the viability of the new viewing technology thanks to his children as well as distribution of clips from his radio program on social media. One teenage child primarily watches video via laptop, he says, and he has seen “huge demand” for the content from his radio program sent out via Twitter and other outlets.
“For a long time, you could not measure it,” he says of digital media consumption. But the more than 600 radio stations that broadcast his show “all have online listening on their web sites” that can be monitored, “and then we are on podcasting,” which can also be tracked. While radio listenership has declined, “when you look at all of the platforms, just the opposite is occurring. In the age of Trump, listening and viewing has gone through the roof and a lot of it is driven by news events.”
He does not expect to make changes to the radio show, even with cameras in the studio. He will still wear T-shirts or sweatshirts and jeans, and won’t keep the broadcasting going beyond the monologue., hoping to maintain the “from the heart” passion that comes across via his voice.
And while media distribution is shifting rapidly, Hannity says the appeal of his program is rooted in things that don’t change: his willingness to buck pronouncements by mainstream media and his ability to stand by his own interpretation of news events. “I can’t make you be a conservative. I have to try and persuade, convince. But we are all adults. You have to make your own decisions. I know people are good people that just have a different point of view, and I have my point of view.”
He firmly believes that President Donald Trump gets pilloried more than he deserves, a position from which he will not waver. “If Trump cured cancer and gave every American $1 million,” he says, liberals “would still hate him. I’ll even add if he adopted all of their little policies. For a lot of people, it seems personal.”
While MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Chris Cuomo vie for viewers in Hannity’s 9 p.m. time slot, the host says he does not pay much attention to their programs. “Have I seen them? Yes. Have I seen them for more than two minutes at a time? I haven’t. I have no interest in what other people do. The only reason I know something about the cable-news environment is because I have five TV sets in front of me three hours a day in case there’s breaking news” while he does his radio program.
Hannity served as executive producer of a 2017 Christian drama, “Let There Be Light,” and says he has other projects in the works. “Very big plans,” he notes, though he declines to offer additional details. “I haven’t told Fox yet,” he jokes. “Stay tuned.”
He isn’t likely to leave Fox News anytime soon. In the past, Hannity had remarked via social media that his contract with the company ran through 2020. But he says that his current agreement with Fox runs through December 2021 , ensuring he will have worked for the network for a quarter century. Did he recently renew or extend? He declines to get into specifics.
“My focus is on building a good show every night, and I try to keep my eyes on that,” he says.