“We’ve not only been strong but we’ve grown ratings in multiple administrations, from both political parties — Clinton, Bush, Obama,” Murdoch said. News was one of several topics the executive addressed in an appearance at the BofA Securities 2020 Media, Communications and Entertainment Virtual Conference.
The executive stressed the “news ecosystem” around FNC in the conversation, which was moderated by veteran media analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich. The company officially changed the division’s name to Fox News Media “because it’s not just … running a linear news channel,” he said. “You have Fox News, you have Fox Business, you have their digital businesses … Fox Nation, and Fox News International. Fox News Digital in August did almost 4 billion page views, which is up 30% year on year.”
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Multi-platform initiatives “keep our viewers and fans within that ecosystem.”
Fox News Channel has beaten all news competitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day in total viewers, Murdoch said. Even though the network skews older, he added, “it’s not something I’m particularly worried about. It’s logical.”
As the overall size of the audience increases, Fox gains “larger cohorts” of new demographics, which helps its appeal to advertisers, Murdoch argued.
Ehrlich did not ask about programming on Fox News, particularly the prime-time opinion shows hosted by Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, which have sparked withdrawals by some advertisers in recent months. In a 2018 conversation at the New York Times‘ DealBook conference, Murdoch said he was “not embarrassed” by the programming and he has seldom addressed the topic publicly during his CEO tenure.
Advertising at local stations, which fell off 50% in the second quarter and remains challenged in some larger markets, is down 23% in the current quarter, Murdoch said. Smaller markets are pacing up 12%, boosted by political spending in states like Michigan, Arizona and Florida.
Murdoch also addressed the state of Fox’s efforts to keep NFL rights. Along with NBCUniversal, Disney and ViacomCBS, Fox will likely face a steep hike in prices if and when the current deal is renewed after its expiration in 2022. The league began talks with broadcasters in June, and is expected to also continue to look for streaming opportunities. It has had a multi-year deal with Amazon for Thursday night games and has also teamed with Twitter and Yahoo on streaming broadcasts.
“The conversations are still at a relatively early stage, but are sort of moving along nicely,” Murdoch said, indicating that the Sunday and Thursday combination remains attractive to Fox. New wrinkles are likely to be part of any re-up with the league. “The NFL has asked all the broadcasters to think about every package and think about ‘how would we monetize packages that we currently have, or other packages, differently?'” Murdoch said. “So, we’re looking at all sorts of options.”
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