Fox News Gains With Live Viewing

Eclipses entertainment networks to finish behind ESPN

Live viewing remains important in an increasingly on-demand world, and in 2015, Fox News Channel climbed to the top of same-day primetime ratings, finishing in second place in total viewers for the first time, behind only ESPN.

ESPN was first in 2014 as well. For Fox News, 2015 marked an improvement from fourth place a year ago. No news channel has ever ranked higher.

Fox News’ numbers also mark an improvement from last year in terms of viewing, as Fox News averaged 1.8 million viewers, up from 1.7 million in 2014.

“There are some networks that are just experienced best live. Fox News is one of those. Sports is another one,” said Tim Carry, executive VP of distribution for Fox News and Fox Business. Carey says that in addition to some big events, like a Republican Presidential debate that drew 24 million viewers, changes to the network’s program lineup over the past year have also made the network more attractive.

Fox News’ growing live viewing comes at a time when entertainment channels are putting more efforts in to counting and monetizing delayed and on-demand viewing as their live ratings mostly shrink.

Fox News’ corporate siblings Fox Broadcasting and FX have stopped distributing their live ratings numbers, insisting that looking at live plus three days or seven days of delayed viewing is more relevant given changes in consumer behavior and the availability of more content on a broader array of digital devices. (The rankings including delayed viewing are quite different, as you can see here.)

But live viewing remains important to advertisers, many of which want to reach consumers while their movies are in theatre or they’re running sales in stores.

Live viewing is also crucial to distributors, even as over-the-top VOD business models proliferate. Sports and news channels—which viewers tend to watch live—command high fees and resist blackouts. And entertainment channels are trying to add vitality by programming live events, like Fox’s upcoming production of Grease.

“A lot of people think the sky is falling as far as linear television goes but there are still things that people are going to need and value on a live basis,” Carry said. Carry notes that there are a lot of entities trying to create business models for skinny bundles or OTT packages of video on demand content.

But he says “You need some live content in any OTT package. You still need to deliver what people want to watch. Fox News is what people want to watch and they want to watch it live,” he said.

That makes the network an important building block of an new platform.

“If you want to be successful in this arena whether it be linear or OTT, if you don’t have Fox News in that package, it won’t be successful, or it won’t be as successful as if you put it in there,” Carry says.

The other networks in the top 10 in terms of total viewers in live plus same day viewing were TBS, USA, TNT, HGTV, Discovery, History, AMC and FX.