The Washington Post

Boycott won’t hurt Fox News’s bottom line


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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