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Perennial ratings victor Fox News Channel celebrates a new milestone this week: It just wrapped its 50th consecutive quarter (and 150th consecutive month) as the most watched cable news network in both total day and primetime. It’s a record only matched by ESPN, which has enjoyed a similar dominance in the sports category.
Though FNC, like all cable news networks, saw year-to-year losses in the second quarter, its average 1.6 million viewers and 267,000 adults 25-54 still gives it large margins of victory in primetime — where its biggest competition might be itself. In recent weeks, 9 p.m. anchor Megyn Kelly has out-rated her lead-in, reigning cable news champ Bill O’Reilly, on several occasions. That achievement did not escape the attention of FNC executive vp programming Bill Shine, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the streak, the year of changes and some recent coverage choices.
“For us, that was a big change; we hardly make any adjustments to our primetime lineup,” Shine says of the decision to move Kelly from daytime to prime. “[She’s] much newsier. And I think we’re fortunate to have good timing.”
That timing includes Kelly’s arrival during the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov and the recent story of released P.O.W. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — which Kelly was one of the first to cover heavily. She’s also found herself at the center of the pop culture conversation, at least more so than her FNC colleagues, with interviews like June’s heated exchange with former Vice President (and Republican) Dick Cheney.
“I think it shows who Megyn is,” says Shine. “She’s a great broadcaster and she’s a great journalist. I think it also shows some of our competition and some of our skeptics what we do over here. I always say a lot of people who don’t like us don’t watch us.”
There are people watching, though. And while there have been big changes to primetime, Shine sees the network’s few changes to its talent roster as one thing that has kept viewers tuning in. “I think we’ve had a lot consistency. You look at people like Bill and Sean [Hannity], they’ve both been here since day one. Shep Smith and Neil Cavuto have both been here since day one.”
Some critics have pointed to that consistency as one reason why FNC’s average viewer is now over 65 years old, but Shine says an increased median age is something affecting all networks.
“It’s happening to most everyone in television, and in terms of the economics of it, we don’t buy and sell on that data,” Shine tells THR. “We buy and sell on the demo, and we’re still clearly winning the demo race among our competitors — combined in some cases. Is it something we keep our eye on? Absolutely. But it’s not something I currently go home and lose sleep over.”
Shine also says his eye is on the competition. He’s not ignoring CNN’s decision to ditch live news coverage for documentary news at cable news’ traditional flagship hour of 9 p.m. — “They’ve decided to go in another direction, and I think you’ve got to give them some time to see if it works.” — though he is committed to live programming and now considers their primetime block as beginning at 5 p.m. with The Five. That show now goes back and forth with Kelly’s between the No. 2 or No. 3 telecasts on cable news.
One thing Shine says he’s not paying attention to is criticism over the network’s reputation for conservative slant. And he’s quick to point at Kelly as someone who can potentially chip away at that reputation. He also says that the recent reassurance in attention on the U.S. handling of the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, Libya, has vindicated FNC’s decision to heavily cover it for the last two years.
FNC was one of several outlets that recently hosted former secretary of state and 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as she was promoting her book Hard Choices, and it focused some of the interview on Benghazi.
“What we heard for years was that it was not a real story — four dead Americans, including the first U.S. ambassador in a generation — but as soon as the secretary’s book came out, it was enough of a story for her to devote an entire chapter of it,” says Shine. “And at the beginning of the book tour, all of the broadcast journalists were basing the news around the Benghazi stuff. It is kind of ironic and humorous for a story that apparently was not important and only being pushed by Fox to end up being so significant in terms of newsworthiness.”
Second-Quarter 2014 Primetime Averages
FNC: 1,596,000 viewers, down 16 percent (267,000 adults 25-54, down 16 percent)
CNN: 459,000 viewers, down 31 percent (157,000 adults 25-54, down 31 percent)
MSNBC: 577,000 viewers, flat (160,000 adults 25-54, down 16 percent)
HLN: 338,000 viewers, down 35 percent (124,000 adults 25-54, down 30 percent)
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