We all know the stereotypical Fox News viewer (at least as the Mainstream Media presents them in pop culture): older, bourgeois, angry, white, male (think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino). To be sure, elderly Baby Boomers of a particular race and socio-economic standing do comprise a large share of Fox News’ traditional audience. Yet, the bulk of Fox’s audience is tuning in for the conservative, ideological pretensions. With the recent shakeup at Fox, this fact was apparently missed. Indeed, Fox is intent on playing identity politics over ideological politics as it seeks to maintain an audience. As you’ll see, this is a serious mistake.
According to a 2012 Pew Research survey, “fully 60% of Fox News viewers describe themselves as conservative, compared with 23% who say they are moderate and 10% who are liberal.” Additionally, another Pew report from 2013 claims that, Fox’s prime time lineup ratings “declined 6% from the previous year.” Of course, as the report noted, Fox still had a larger audience than all of its cable news competitors combined. But, more ominously, the report concluded that “there is some evidence of a ceiling for audience growth. Fox has not increased its median evening viewership since 2009.”
Things changed in 2016, however, when Fox proudly reported that they were “the most-watched network in all of cable for the first time in [their] history.” During 2016, Fox “averaged 2.4 million viewers in primetime and 1.4 million viewers in total day―up 36 percent compared to 2015.” But these numbers were totaled during a year that saw a highly contentious presidential election and it wasn’t only Fox’s numbers that increased. CNN experienced a bumper crop in 2016 for ratings also. The entertainment factor of the 2016 election was a major reason behind the increase in cable news viewership, but so too was real interest in Donald Trump. It seems that the former reality TV star is good for everyone’s ratings.
What’s more, the extraordinary numbers Fox enjoyed were tallied before the Murdoch family decided to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by firing Bill O’Reilly. You see, even with the loss of Roger Ailes (who was the ideological godfather of Fox); even having lost long-time staple, Greta Van Susteren to MSNBC; even with rising star, Megyn Kelly, opting to bail out of Fox amidst the claims of corporate lasciviousness (and for a much bigger payday at NBC); Bill O’Reilly remained. Indeed, The O’Reilly Factor consistently brought in a few million viewers per day over the course of many years.