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Can Fox News Channel extend its linear brand dominance to its new streaming service? Network executives are spending big to try.
Fox Nation, the company’s on-demand subscription service, launches Nov. 27 with a roster of programming that features current stars (Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro) and up-and-comers (Tomi Lahren, recently of Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze; Britt McHenry, a social media flamethrower and former ESPN reporter). The platform is entering an increasingly busy over-the-top market. But unlike many legacy news brands, Fox News is mounting a digital offering that will eschew news in favor of the kind of opinion programming that has swelled the Fox News audience to more than 2.8 million viewers in primetime in the Trump era.
“Does anybody need another OTT service where it’s just people sitting behind a desk reading headlines all day? I don’t think so,” notes John Finley, Fox News senior vp development and production.
More than a year in the making, Fox Nation also is the first major initiative to launch under the stewardship of Suzanne Scott, who was promoted to CEO of Fox News in May. The new service, which began selling subscriptions Oct. 28, is aimed at the Fox News superfan willing to shell out $5.99 a month. “They’re uniquely positioned,” notes Chris Balfe, who ran Beck’s over-the-top play TheBlaze and is now chief executive of Red Seat Ventures. “It’s kind of a no-brainer. To me, the question is: at what scale?”
The platform’s tagline — “Opinion Done Right” — and national marketing campaign with billboards featuring the slogan “Feeling Left Out?” is aimed at the audience that has made Fox News the No. 1 network in basic cable, including among the advertiser-coveted 25-54 demographic. (Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. program pulls in nearly 3.5 million viewers every night). The goal is also to bring in a younger audience than what currently watches TV news.
Many of the free OTT services launched by legacy new brands have a far younger audience profile; CBS News’ CBSN has an average age of 38, for ABC News Live it is 39. A majority of those who already signed up for the service did so through mobile devices, says Finley. But the digital news marketplace is crowded. CNN Digital reached 132.9 million unique users in September, according to Comscore. And NBC News in mid-2019 will launch NBC News Signal, a streaming service aimed at young adults that will include news and analysis programming with shows hosted by Steve Kornacki and Katy Tur.
“Anybody would look at the overall subscriber losses the traditional providers are sustaining and say, ‘How can I create services that are more like what people are going to, instead of going from?’ ” adds Balfe.
Fox News exec Finley won’t say how much the company is investing to launch Fox Nation nor would he share internal subscriber targets, but insiders note that 1 million-plus should be a benchmark. The platform has made dozens of hires, the most high-profile being McHenry and Lahren, who will transition her online franchise Final Thoughts to the service and will launch a new segment, First Thoughts, that will air at 9:30 a.m. on the East Coast.
Hannity will have a regular program on the platform. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy will host a cooking show. Many of the co-hosts of The Five will contribute: Greg Gutfeld will host the interview program One Smart Person and Greg Gutfeld; Dana Perino will host a show about her book club, which is frequently mentioned on The Five; and Jesse Watters will helm a weekly Five wrap-up show.
“We’ll fact-check Juan [Williams, the show’s lone liberal member] and we’ll talk about what Greg is ordering for dinner, and we’ll discuss Dana’s book club and how we’re not allowed in the book club,” muses Watters, 40. “We’re going to be giving fans what they want in a more intimate, looser, behind-the-scenes, fun way.”
McHenry will co-host the daily show Un-PC with Tyrus (real name: George Murdoch, no relation to the family that controls the channel), a beefy, tattooed former wrestler and regular on The Greg Gutfeld Show. There will be a sports segment and, says McHenry, there may be a skit, though she would not elaborate.
“I’m your quintessential millennial probably where I’ve said whatever I want on social media,” says McHenry, 32, the former ESPN personality who claimed that she was demoted at the Disney-owned network because she is “white” and “openly conservative.” She later walked back the claims. But she admits that she felt confined at ESPN.
“My frustration is there was the opinion side in sports, too, and those people could talk about everything,” McHenry says. “And I had that gnawing feeling inside of like, ‘Well, I want to speak my mind as well.’ I think there’s a thirst for that. Maybe there’s too much of it sometimes. Here I’m in opinion-commentary so I’m allowed to do that — and it’s fun.”
Fox Nation will also include on-demand audio of Fox News Channel content 30 minutes after each program concludes. And the service will simulcast Fox News Radio programs including The Brian Kilmeade Show and The Todd Starnes Show.
The new service will be completely ad-free, at least to start. And this could be a good thing, given the growing trend toward advertiser-targeted consumer boycotts. “We’re hoping to cast a large net,” says Finley. “There are going to be a lot of voices on Fox Nation. And that helps balance some of the discussion. But we don’t have to worry about ad boycotts on Fox Nation, at least for the time being.”
Jeremy Barr contributed to this report.
A version of this story appears in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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