O'Reilly's banished. Ailes is plotting something somewhere. And Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson enjoy, or plan to, the air elsewhere. It must be time to reposition Fox News, right?
Why, it only makes sense. When an 86-year-old still commands the channel that commands the oldest viewership in cable news, the creaking of the channel just gets louder. And with each moan, pundits will increasingly cry out: "Re-position." Re-positioning, though, is not the way of the Murdochs. Stake out a position -- with The Sun, The Times of London, Sky TV, The Wall Street Journal or Fox News, the last launched to a roomful of chortles at the "Fair and Balanced" "positioning" in 1986 -- and stick to it.
Re-positioning, though, is something else. And it makes sense. Why mess with a money-and-power machine that continues to pay out? We can track the expectations of a Fox News repositioning back at least six years, and the topic has arisen through the channel's contretemps. It's easy to point out, as I did last summer when Fox News CEO Ailes found himself on the wrong side of the Fox door, that Fox News' aging audience is a cause for concern. Bill O'Reilly himself, an apparently a bit too spry 67-year-old, appealed to his elders, with an audience averaging 72. Overall, Fox News has enjoyed, emphasis intended, the oldest audience in cable news, at 68, seven years older than CNN and five older than MSNBC.
As I pointed out a year ago ["What really ails Fox"] as Ailes got his $40 million soft kick to retirement, cable news seems to be an artifact of another age, given the average age of its readers. And while we increasingly turn to the web for breaking news, those large, HD, flat-screens still fascinate us. While as much as 25% of prime-time entertainment viewing has time-shifted to DVRs, according to Comscore, only about 10% of news has. News is news, and for now -- in this unprecedented political time -- the cable news business is a great one to be in. Maybe, by 2020, it'll be more profoundly digital, but for now, there's money to take in by the rake.
Fox News' audience leadership has satisfied advertisers for a long time. From Hulu to Hyundai and Coldwell Banker to Credit Karma, they stuck with O'Reilly, until they couldn't.
Undoubtedly, those empowered by O'Reilly's departure will press for more changes at Fox News, but if history is any guide, those advertisers will return, happy to pinch those rosy cheeks of Tucker Carlson. Will those 80 advertisers who spent $35 million on Factor ads in 2016 demand Fox News itself change? That seems unlikely.
Mercedes-Benz, leading the Factor parade with $1.34 million in spend, still sees lots of willing buyers on FNC. Of course, the course of the country and its media have never been tougher to predict. Who would think that Bill O'Reilly and Jason Chaffetz would bid adieu on the same day, even as the 100th day of the Trump Imperium awaits? America's colorful changes apparently cut both ways.
Certainly, it is the ratings that could lower Fox's financial take. However, that will take time to become a new reality, even as a re-energized CNN and an Andy Lack-repositioning MSNBC (still time for a new rebrand) up their game.
TV spending doesn't usually move too quickly, and Fox's audience is likely to test out the newbies -- Tucker Carlson moving into O'Reilly's spot and The Five moving into Carlson. Not until the advertisers decide that they don't want to be associated with what passes for news at the country's most-watched cable "news" station. And that's not too likely to happen.