The Washington Post

Boy­cott won’t hurt Fox News’s bot­tom line

- BY PAUL FARHI Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd. · Tucker Carlson · United States of America · Florida · Sean Hannity · Republican Party (United States) · Alabama · Rush Limbaugh · Bill O'Reilly · Saturday Night Live · Likely · Laura Ingraham · David Hogg · Roy Moore · Glenn Beck

Fox News host Tucker Carl­son ap­pears to be in deep trou­ble, with advertiser­s flee­ing his nightly pro­gram over re­marks he made last week.

On the other hand, if his­tory is any guide, Carl­son doesn’t have much to worry about. Likely as not, this will all blow over soon.

Ad­ver­tiser boy­cotts such as the one this week against Carl­son tend to be like snow­storms: ini­tially dis­rup­tive and at­ten­tion­but usu­ally ephemeral. In time, as the ar­dor on so­cial me­dia cools, they pass.

Carl­son — who brought on the wrath of groups such as Me­dia Mat­ters for Amer­ica af­ter say­ing that im­mi­grants make Amer­ica “poorer and dirt­ier and more di­vided” — is the lat­est con­ser­va­tive me­dia fig­ure to come un­der spon­sor pres­sure, with lib­eral in­ter­est groups lead­ing the way. Amid sus­tained crit­i­cism of his re­marks on so­cial me­dia, at least 18 advertiser­s have asked Fox News to re­move their ads from his pro­gram.

While the boy­cott may well end up be­ing a check on Carl­son’s fu­ture pro­nounce­ments, few such boy­cotts have had a last­ing ef­fect.

Carl­son’s prime-time col­league Laura In­gra­ham faced a sim­i­lar ad­ver­tiser re­sponse in March when she mocked David Hogg, one of the teenage sur­vivors of the Park­land, Fla., mass shoot­ing. In­gra­ham lost advertiser­s for her re­mark, for which she later apol­o­gized. But she plunged right back into hot wa-

ter in June af­ter com­par­ing the fa­cil­i­ties hold­ing im­mi­grant chil­dren to “summer camps” and “board­ing schools.”

Sean Han­nity, the pil­lar of Fox News’s evening lineup, faced three such boy­cotts last year, in­clud­ing one over his de­fense of Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore of Alabama.

Re­sult: Like In­gra­ham, Han­nity rolls on.

So, too, does con­ser­va­tive ra­dio ti­tan Rush Lim­baugh, who faced a sus­tained back­lash for call­ing birth-con­trol ad­vo­cate Sandra Fluke “a slut” in 2012. Dozens of advertiser­s dropped Lim­baugh at the time. Many qui­etly re­turned.

A nearly two-year protest against Fox News host Glenn Beck, led by the ad­vo­cacy group Color of Change, even­tu­ally wore down his spon­sors and led to the demise of Beck at Fox News in 2011. And it was a fac­tor in Bill O’Reilly’s fir­ing last year, though O’Reilly’s mul­ti­ple sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments were the prin- cipal cause. Be­fore his ouster, O’Reilly had sur­vived mul­ti­ple ad boy­cotts over two decades at the net­work.

But so far, Fox News shows lit­tle sign of bend­ing to Carl­son’s crit­ics or much dis­tress over his lost advertiser­s.

Nor is Fox News likely to suf­fer fi­nan­cially from the fall­out over Carl­son. The net­work has moved advertiser­s that have ob­jected to Carl­son’s rhetoric to other pro­grams through­out the day. This en­tails no loss of rev­enue for Fox, be­cause of the way com­mer­cials are pur­chased on ca­ble news net­works. Most ca­ble-news advertiser­s buy ads in bulk, in a pack­age that en­sures their com­mer­cials will reach an agreed-upon num­ber of view­ers. This ar­range­ment en­ables Fox News to ful­fill its com­mit­ments whether an ad airs dur­ing Carl­son’s pro­gram or at some other time.

Even so, Me­dia Mat­ters Pres­i­dent An­gelo Caru­sone says that a num­ber advertiser­s have stayed away from Fox News’s more con­tro­ver­sial hosts on a sus­tained ba­sis. In­gra­ham had about 30 spon­sors per night be­fore the Park­land flap; she now has about half that per night, he says.

Fox News de­clined to com­ment for this re­port.

Caru­sone ar­gues that re­peated con­tro­ver­sies have had a cu­mu­la­tive fi­nan­cial ef­fect on Fox News over time.

“There has been a steady stream of flare-ups” that af­fects advertiser­s’ per­cep­tion of the net­work, he says. “Ad buy­ers know the pro­gram­ming is volatile and risky.” As a re­sult, “Fox’s next up­fronts [ad­vance ad sales] are go­ing to be a dis­as­ter. I feel good about the fact they’re los­ing money and not max­i­miz­ing their prof­its.”

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Fox News has been one of the most prof­itable ca­ble net­works for years, gen­er­at­ing bil­lions of dol­lars from ad­ver­tis­ing and li­cens­ing fees from ca­ble-sys­tem op­er­a­tors. This year, it will gen­er­ate a record $1.02 bil­lion in ad rev­enue and $1.6 bil­lion in gross prof­its, also a record, ac­cord­ing to SNL Ka­gan, a fi­nan­cial-re­search firm. The firm es­ti­mates Fox’s ad rev­enue has grown 32 per­cent and its prof­its are up 47 per­cent over the past five years.

How­ever, a boy­cott — even a tem­po­rary one — has other ra­tio­nales, says An­drew Tyn­dall, the pub­lisher of the Tyn­dall Re­port, a newsletter that tracks net­work news.

“The point of the boy­cott may be ide­o­log­i­cal, not eco­nomic,” he says. “In­stead of be­ing a mech­a­nism to harm Carl­son or to have him re­moved or to per­suade him to change his tone, the boy­cott’s aim may be to pub­li­cize the charge that his views are out of the main­stream, not even shared in the cor­po­rate suites.”

This is al­most pre­cisely what Matt Rivitz, the founder of the ad hoc group Sleep­ing Giants, says about his group’s ef­forts to call advertiser­s’ at­ten­tion to Carl­son’s commentary.

“If [advertiser­s] feel like the rhetoric and xeno­pho­bia has be­come less heated and is more in line with their brand, they could def­i­nitely go back,” Rivitz says. “Fox, though, hasn’t re­ally had a de­sire to do that at this point, it seems.”

Tyn­dall isn’t too sur­prised by that. Fox News, he noted, has a large and loyal au­di­ence that ex­pects some level of provo­ca­tion, cre­at­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for Carl­son to be out­ra­geous. “In fact, to be the tar­get of a boy­cott pro­motes the brand.”

 ?? RICHARD DREW/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? Tucker Carl­son’s com­ment that im­mi­grants make the United States “poorer and dirt­ier and more di­vided” prompted some advertiser­s to yank their spots from his prime-time Fox News show.
RICHARD DREW/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Tucker Carl­son’s com­ment that im­mi­grants make the United States “poorer and dirt­ier and more di­vided” prompted some advertiser­s to yank their spots from his prime-time Fox News show.

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