Murdoch predicted Thursday that Fox News, the economic engine of his company, Fox Corporation, would lead cable news in the ratings once again after ceding ground in recent weeks to rivals CNN and MSNBC. “The main beneficiary of the Trump administration from a ratings points of view was MSNBC,” which served as a kind of “loyal opposition.,” Murdoch said while speaking to investors at a conference organized by Morgan Stanley. “That’s what our job is now with the Biden administration, and you’ll see our ratings really improve from here.”
Murdoch makes his comments as Fox News Channel has come under investor scrutiny due to viewership levels rising not only at traditional cable-news rivals, but also at far-right news outlets like Newsmax. The refusal of the Trump administration to accept the results of the election and a January 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., he said, spurred higher viewership at other networks, as did Fox News viewers’ dislike of the way Fox News channel chronicled Trump’s defeat. Viewers, he noted, were “disappointed with the election results.”
In recent weeks, Fox News Channel has overhauled its daytime lineup, added new opinion hours where news once held sway and parted ways with editorial personnel like Chris Stirewalt, one of its political journalists. Even its highly-watched primetime hosts, which include mainstays like Sean Hannity, saw viewership levels fall.
Now, he says, CNN ratings are “coming back down to earth” after the “D.C. riots,” and Fox News will serve as MSNBC did during the Trump administration, when it “called out the president when he needed to be called out.” In February, Fox News captured the most viewers in primetime among the cable-news outlets, after falling behind CNN and MSNBC in January. MSNBC finished February as the most-watched cable-news network across the entire day and CNN was dominant in total day in the demographic most coveted by advertisers, people between 25 and 54.
Murdoch also provided Fox Corp.’s strongest hint yet that it is poised to drop “Thursday Night Football” from its schedule when its current rights contract ends after the 2022 season.
All the big networks that currently have football rights are in the midst of negotiations with the NFL for pacts that could see their fees double for agreements that could last for a decade or more. “We’re getting towards the end of this negotiation,” Murdoch said, noting that Fox and the league were “still apart on a number of issues.” When it comes to a new agreement, he said, “the most likely scenario” is that Fox keeps its Sunday-afternoon NFL broadcast, and lets Thursday go.
The Thursday broadcast has been a thorn in the side of the networks that have agreed to air it since the NFL decided to share the property rather than airing it only on its own NFL Network. CBS, NBC and Fox have all lost money on the Thursday games, according to people familiar with the matter, and have often been frustrated that they’ve had to share the broadcast with Amazon and the NFL Network. The Thursday games are now poised to be split between the NFL’s cable network and another party, which many sports executives believe will be Amazon.
More to come…