The network’s ratings have dropped about 13% in recent weeks, putting the network in the rare position of trailing CNN and MSNBC, but Murdoch described the drop as predictable and cyclical. Speaking during the company’s fiscal second quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts, Murdoch said the ratings decline is to be expected given the election of President Joe Biden, a Democrat. Once the news environment “normalizes,” the CEO predicts a “return to our ratings dominance.”
Responding to an analyst’s observation about extensive media coverage of Fox News recently, Murdoch replied brightly, “You’re right, a lot’s been written about it, and there’ll be a few more trees cut down writing about it in the days and weeks to come.”
In addition to the ratings drop, the network’s stance on former President Donald Trump has fueled media speculation. While Fox was willing to deliver early calls of battleground states for Biden (including Arizona, famously), stunning the Trump camp, the network also now faces a $2.7 billion lawsuit from election data firm Smartmatic. The company accuses Fox hosts of waging a campaign of election fraud allegations, suggesting its technology threw the election to Biden. (Similar claims from Trump’s lawyers have been thrown out by dozens of judges at every level in the weeks after the election.)
No analysts asked about the Smartmatic suit. It drew a request for a dismissal Monday night by Fox News, which calls the suit “meritless.”
Asked about maintaining the approach and management team at Fox News — whose CEO, Suzanne Scott, has just been re-upped as CEO — Murdoch said his reasoning is rooted in two-and-a-half decades of success.
“In the journalism business, the journalism trade, you work out what your market is and you produce your best product you can possibly produce for that target market,” he said. “The success of Fox News throughout its entire history has been to provide the absolute best news and opinion for a market we believe is firmly center-right. And we don’t pivot or change that. And we haven’t pivoted or changed that throughout the history of Fox News. So, we’ll continue to provide the best journalism with the best hosts with the best analysis with the best opinions going forward, as we have throughout the past news cycles.”
Conservative upstarts like One America News and NewsMax have gained attention and some ratings increases (off of a very low base) by positioning themselves to the right of Fox News.
The center-right, Murdoch continued, “is exactly where we should be targeted. We don’t need to go further right. We don’t believe America is further right. And we’re obviously not going to pivot left. All of our significant competitors are to the far left. So, we’ll stick where we are. … With that, we’ll see a return to our ratings dominance. We believe the center-right is where American politics are.”
After the 2016 election, when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, Murdoch added, CNN ratings dropped 17% and MSNBC’s fell 10%. “This is a cycle we’ve seen before, it’s a cycle we’ve expected,” he said. “We look forward to the news normalizing.”
Financially, Fox News has remained on a solid footing, benefiting from election advertising in the most recent quarter. Fox Corp. exceeded analysts’ forecast for quarterly earnings and revenue.
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