Newsmax CEO: ‘We Are Not Actively Selling,’ Have No Desire to Be ‘Trump TV’

Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy attends a dinner with the US president and business leaders in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7, 2018. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP via Getty Images

Newsmax may be focused on conservative audiences, but it has very liberal views of where its business can go in the future as an independent news operation.

The top executive of the news outlet said the company intends to move forward on its own, and noted Newsmax has little desire to turn the network, which has seen its ratings pop since the presidential election, into a TV outlet focused largely on a forum for a post-White House Donald Trump.

“Newsmax would never become ‘Trump TV,'” Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, told Variety in an interview Sunday evening. “We have always seen ourselves as an independent news agency, and we want to continue with that mission. But we are open — [Trump] is going to be a political and media force after he leaves the White House, and we would be open to talking to him about a weekly show.” The executive also said “we are not actively selling” the company at this time, though he notes he has had expressions of interest from “investors, investment banks and strategic players” in the recent past.

“We listen to them, but our main focus is continuing: We would like to overtake Fox News in the next 12 months, and I think it’s do-able.”

Ruddy made his remarks following a report Sunday from The Wall Street Journal that said private-equity firm Hicks Equity Partners had explored the idea of “acquiring and investing in Newsmax,” potentially as part of an effort to build a rival to Fox News Channel. “We have no deal with them” says Ruddy, who noted that he has had conversations on various topics with Thomas Hicks, the firm’s leader. “I have spoken to him on and off through the past three years, because we travel in political and social circles. It’s nothing unusual for us to have a conversation.”

A representative for Hicks Equity could not be reached for immediate comment.

Newsmax is typically more of a competitor to CNBC or Fox Business Network, while Fox News Channel has, over the summer and in the days around the election, challenged some the broadcast networks in primetime. On Election Night, Fox News Channel captured an average of 14.1 million viewers overall, and nearly 6 million in the demographic most coveted by advertisers, people between 25 and 54.

Newsmax has also employed personnel whose journalistic acumen has been called into question, including Diamond & Silk, a female duo who, during a previous tenure with the Fox News Media streaming outlet Fox Nation, questioned the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and whether the number of people reported to have died from the disease had been inflated to undermine President Trump. Fox News cut ties with them in April. Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary whose credibility was called into question during his tenure, is also a featured personality

Wall Street has been unusually focused on the potential for a Fox News competitor to rise from the right, a sign of how much the company depends on the cable outlet for profit.  The Fox Corporation-owned outlet has for years vied with AT&T’s CNN and NBCUniversal’s MSNBC, but has by and large outflanked both of them. Fox News’ primetime shows draw bigger audiences and win more advertising and distribution revenue than either network. “We speculate that perhaps, over time, the new network could lop off around 20% of the Fox News audience and reach 10% share of the entire news market,” said Michael Nathanson of research firm MoffettNathanson in a recent note. Fox Corp. executives were sanguine about the prospects for an upstart to challenge its business. “We love competition,” Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.’s executive chairman and CEO said during a recent call with investors.  “We have always thrived with competition, and we have strong competition now.”

Fox News Channel is projected to take in nearly $1.36 billion in advertising in 2020, according to Kagan, a market research firm that is part of S&P Global Intelligence, and around $1.62 billion in affiliate fees. According to Kagan, Newsmax relies more heavily on a smaller stream of ad revenue.

Fox News, which has enjoyed a robust relationship with President Trump and his White House since his ascension to the Oval Office, has recently found itself in his crosshairs. On Election Night, Fox News was first to call Arizona for President-elect Joe Biden — a development that Trump has seen as a betrayal of sorts. That didn’t keep Trump affiliates like Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney; South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; and House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy from appearing Sunday morning on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures” with anchor Maria Bartiromo.

Newsmax has seen its viewership spike in recent days, with its 7 p.m. program, “Greg Kelly Reports,” notching 1.06 million viewers on November 12. Fox News Channel’s program at that time, “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” captured 2.4 million viewers. Ruddy feels his network enjoys an advantage over its more-established rival: Viewers can get its content via broadband more easily, while Fox News keeps off-cable viewing windows of its programming on subscriber services like Fox Nation. Newsmax recently said its free mobile app has had more than two million downloads in November.

Unlike many mainstream news outlets, Newsmax has yet to tell its viewers that Biden has won the election. “We are waiting for the states’ certification and the electoral college, but we will at some point when that happens,” says Ruddy. “We will be supportive of whoever the next president is.”

Ruddy says the company believes in its current business. “Newsmax is moderately conservative and we will continue to have a moderately conservative viewpoint on things — including the president.”