No Post-Election Hangover at Fox News

New primetime lineup, sponsored hours make upfront pitch great again

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It will be tough for Fox News Channel to top 2016. A crazy political year boosted the cable-news leader to the top of the overall basic-cable ratings, producing record viewership and revenue for parent 21st Century Fox.

The network also went through some turmoil as former Fox News president Roger Ailes, who launched the channel in 1996, was forced out amid allegations of sexual harassment by network staffers. (Ailes has denied the charges.) The departure of anchor and rising star Megyn Kelly for NBC News also forced it to make changes in primetime. And ad-sales chief Paul Rittenberg, one of Fox News’ first staffers, also announced plans to leave this spring.

The big audiences are drawing ad dollars to TV news and the cable news networks across the board. In January, spending on cable news, covering President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the lead-up to it, jumped 16.8%, per research company Standard Media Index. Fox News was up 34.2%, CNN was up 19.9% and MSNBC gained 49.2%. Commercial costs also rose sharply on the cable news networks, with 30-second spots on up 50.1% on MSNBC, 48% on Fox News and 28.8% on CNN.

Reaping from Ratings Power

“What we’re going to be talking about in our upfront presentation this year is really the power and the consistency of the ratings,” Fox News VP of eastern sales Dominick Rossi said. “As good as 2016 was for us, 2017 has already started out with even higher ratings, so we definitely see a lot of interest in our brands for the foreseeable future.”

Last year’s presidential primary and general-election debates generated huge ratings for Fox News. A debate on Fox Business Network drew 11 million viewers in January of 2016, helping solidify Fox Business as a more formidable competitor to CNBC, the business-news category leader.

Big events haven’t stopped since the election. Last month, when the president addressed a joint session of congress, Fox News drew almost 11 million viewers, topping all of its broadcast and cable competitors.

In addition to being No. 1 in total viewers in cable, so far this year, Fox News was first or second among adults 18 to 49, 25 to 54, 35 to 64 and 50 plus in households with incomes of $100,000 or more in all dayparts.

“There is no denying that the election was a bonanza for the news outlets,” Horizon Media chief investment officer Marianne Gambelli said. “Record ratings across all broadcasters definitely drove more dollars to news.”

News still isn’t for everyone. “In some cases, clients who don’t normally buy news probably shifted some dollars to take advantage of the ratings surge, but I’m sure most clients whose demographics skew older and would already buy news just spent more on that daypart,” she said.

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In election years, news networks are able to sell premium packages that include debates, conventions and election-night coverage. And Rossi said there were advertisers who signed on only for big events. Some became regular advertisers on the channel.

“We’re not going to have set scheduled things like we had last year,” Rossi said. “However, there are certainly going to be big nights throughout the year. But it’s really every hour of every day throughout the year. So no matter when your schedule’s going to run, you can rely on the fact that you’re going to get a live, loyal audience and have strong delivery.” And Fox News makes sure that delivery takes place in the quarter when the campaign runs.

Fox News plans to begin making its upfront presentations to media buying agencies next month. On the agenda will be a new street-level studio at its Sixth Avenue headquarters that it began using on election night and a new primetime lineup following the departures of Kelly and Greta Van Susteren.

New Shows, New Avails

Rossi noted that the network has smoothly moved Tucker Carlson Tonight into the 9 p.m. time slot (replacing Kelly’s The Kelly File), and launched The First 100 Days With Martha MacCallum at 7 p.m. It is not clear what will happen at 7 p.m. after April.

New shows could mean new sponsorship opportunities, Rossi said.

One opportunity Fox News will push more this upfront is having individual advertisers sponsor an entire hour of programming, usually with fewer commercials. “It takes the right client because it’s a big ask,” Rossi said. “You’re going to fund an hour of television. We’ll make sure the audience knows they’re getting extended coverage because of you.”

And some might want to advertise on Fox News because there’s a good chance the president might be watching. “There have been a couple of advertisers with corporate campaigns,” Rossi said. “It is an interesting time and it does open up the possibility of some campaigns that are targeted to D.C.”