“We love competition,” Murdoch said in response to a direct question from an analyst about Trump’s future during the company’s quarterly earnings call. “We have always thrived with competition. … The only difference today versus some years ago is as our audience has grown and our reach has grown, we see our competition as no longer only cable news providers but also as the traditional broadcast networks.”
From Labor Day to Election Day, Murdoch noted, Fox News was the top network in broadcast or cable in terms of total audience. Prior to the call, Fox Corp. reported so-so results for its fiscal first quarter, exceeding analysts’ estimates but revealing a major toll from COVID-19.
Trump, who faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Joe Biden in his bid for a second term as president, has talked about his ambition to start an alternative to Fox News. While his rise to power can of course be traced to the influence of Murdoch’s father, Rupert, and Fox opinion hosts like Sean Hannity, Trump has also had his differences at times with the network.
In a lengthy appearance last month on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, Trump bashed Fox News, calling it “a much different thing that it was four years ago. Somebody said, ‘What is the biggest difference?’ I said the biggest difference is Fox.” He has floated the idea of launching a network in several public appearances, framing it as a response to CNN’s “fake news” coverage.
Few concrete details have emerged about a potential Trump news initiative, but it wouldn’t be a big leap to imagine him drawing on longstanding ties to the television business and as a public figure for decades. The field of conservative TV news outlets has grown more crowded in recent years, even before Trump’s election in 2016, with newer players like NewsMax and One America News in the mix. A Vanity Fair report in the spring said the Trump family had held discussions with OAN about taking a stake, though a spokesperson denied it.
Despite his criticism of Fox News, Trump remains closely linked to the channel and its sibling Fox Business. He recently did regular call-in segments on Fox and Friends and a sit-down with Maria Bartiromo, who endorsed him in the Wall Street Journal.
Fox News was a big theme of the 50-minute analyst call, which followed Fox’s release of its fiscal first-quarter results. Overall, the quarterly showing was fairly mixed, with the numbers exceeding analysts’ forecast but total ad revenue dipping 7% despite a record-setting political haul at the company’s potent string of local stations.
Asked about the impact of the election on Fox News, Murdoch said it has “been an incredible cycle,” with total revenue at the network up 36% in the quarter. “As we enter a more normal news cycle, which has to happen eventually,” he added, “the appetite for news will shift back to appetite for the great American pastimes of watching football and watching baseball and watching The Masked Singer.”
While the vagaries of the news cycle are hard to predict, Murdoch said over multiple administrations from both parties, Fox News has retained its No. 1 share in TV news.
On the NFL front, Murdoch said ratings have been a bit “soft” this season due to the collision of sports in the fall as COVID-19 has upended schedules. He ruled out making a play for DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package but said the company remains engaged in talks with the league about renewing its current rights deals.