The Fox News Channel is having a nice run. I think that much can be said objectively without my inbox getting pummeled with so much hate mail that a barrel of smoke starts pouring out of it, as if a pope just got named, or Yosemite Sam got really pissed off.
Then again, I may be wrong. Writing about Fox News is a lot like being married: Even if you try to do something harmless, chances are good you’re still going to get yelled at.
But News Corp.’s crown cable jewel is coming off a stellar week. Not only did an appearance by Jon Stewart on The O’Reilly Factor indirectly frame quite a bit of the current cultural dialogue, but more importantly, the network helped push the company to a Wall Street-beating earnings report.
According to the News Corp. report, Fox News achieved its highest-ever quarterly profit. The bottom line: It pumps money into the company’s most profitable division.
Fox News is not on top of its competitors and throwing off mounds of cash because there is a Democrat in the Oval Office, or because of any perceived weakness in President Obama given our country’s struggles, or any other political issue. Fox News’ success is based on one thing alone: It makes good television.
Let me start by being crystal clear—my politics has nothing to do with this. The publication I run and for which I write is one that focuses on the content-creation and delivery business, and nothing more. You will never have an idea from these pages whether, from my seat at a recent Vikings playoff game—a mere two rows away from Minnesota Democratic Senator and fellow Blake High School alum Al Franken—I wanted to buy him a beer or throw one at him.
The only polls I care about here are those measured by Nielsen or Wall Street. And on both fronts, Fox News is tracking strongly.
You can compare FNC to brethren like CNN and MSNBC if you like, but what the network has built is actually a good working model for any cable network: a clear and strong brand, and an unwavering commitment to stick with it. Viewers, advertisers and cable operators all know what they’re getting, regardless of the network’s sometimes-silly dance around its own true brand equity. Stewart probably put it best last week when he told O’Reilly, “Fox News is the most passionate and sells the clearest narrative.”
Say what you want about hosts like O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, but their brand of television is entertaining and draws attention. And that’s all they’re paid to do. Everything else is window dressing from a business standpoint.
To write about Fox News, however, and not acknowledge the issues taken by many with the way it does its business would qualify as naïve, cajoling or simply uninformed. I have written in this space about my frustration with the lack of ratings for “traditional news,” and that won’t change. I also have seen first-hand the vitriol with which the network can operate, having personally known someone who was a political candidate on the receiving end of what I’d call a blatant hit piece.
But Roger Ailes is not paid millions to hit some moral high ground; his mandate is to keep Wall Street happy, period, by racking up subscription fees, viewers and advertisers.
So say what you will about Fox News Channel, but it offers, objectively, a lesson in how to build and maintain a television brand.
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