Despite all the self-inflicted chaos and line-up changes in recent months, Fox News still finds itself in a decent position. And throughout a clearly transitional phase, Sean Hannity remains the top draw at the cable news outlet, even though — and even because — he has been at the center of many recent controversies.
There is no denying that the network has been slipping in terms of ratings of late. MSNBC is now intruding by winning the key 25-54 age demographic on many evenings. Fox News still won overall during May 2017 by being number one in total daytime views and number 2 in prime time, only behind TNT, which aired NBA playoff games.
But increasingly, Hannity is the best (sole?) prime time representation of the Fox News of yesteryear. He is a reminder of a recent past where the network that not only dominated cable news ratings, but also successfully drove news narratives — that significantly handicapped the Obama administration — while at the same time earning record advertising revenues. The TV personality is an unapologetic conservative who relishes the conflicts that make cable news wars so interesting (and drive website traffic!)
Since Fox News also rolled out its new line-up last late April (after Bill O’Reilly was left the network) it has only performed okay in initial ratings, which is not unreasonable given the rather abrupt change that so quickly followed Megyn Kelly’s departure. But Hannity still draws a strong and fiercely loyal audience, and appears to have successfully weathered a firestorm over his ongoing promotion of the conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
Some sponsors of the host’s 10 pm Eastern program pulled out due to the backlash. One major sponsor that withdrew, USAA, reversed course after complaints from their main customer base — servicemen, veterans, and their families. USAA’s backtracking shows that Hannity’s audience is still fiercely loyal to him.
It also underscores the peril that Fox News finds itself in a situation that somewhat mirrors O’Reilly’s advertiser boycott, which may have been the network’s calculation when they announced on May 25, 2017 that the host would return after an extended break for Memorial Day.
Fox News may not be able to boast as large a share of the total cable news audience today as they could even a year ago. But if they are eager to stem that ebbing tide, they would be wise to keep Hannity on their roster — controversies notwithstanding.
The Rich issue is just the latest example of Hannity’s sometimes-controversial reputation. As long as he avoids getting into a scandal of the magnitude of Bill O’Reilly, Fox News will almost certainly do all they can to keep him happy. No matter what you think of Hannity’s politics, he is unquestionably an uber-talented broadcaster, and provocateur. It would be daft for them to let him go while they are in stiff competition with their cable news competitors.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.