ANALYSIS: Can Fox News Recover From the Post-Carlson Ratings Crash?

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News Analysis

Fox News’ prime-time ratings have crashed since the network parted ways with host Tucker Carlson on April 24.

Between April 24 and May 4, an average of about 1.45 million total viewers, with 156,625 viewers in the key 25-54 demographic, tuned in to Fox News’ 8 p.m. ET hour, which Carlson had anchored as the most-watched show in cable news.

For comparison, in his final week on air, Carlson averaged 3.42 million viewers. In 2022, Carlson averaged 3.3 million viewers per episode.

Not only has Fox News suffered with the 8 p.m. ratings, it has also dealt with a decline in prime-time ratings for all of its one-hour slots since Carlson left the network.

In the critical 25-54 demo, the 6 p.m. hour experienced a 42 percent drop, while the 7 p.m. slot went down 62 percent.

The 8 p.m. slot saw a 75 percent decrease, while the 9 p.m. hour experienced a 70 percent dip among that demographic.

And the number of 25-54 viewers in the 10 p.m. slot dropped 66 percent, while the 11 p.m. hour saw a 49 percent decline.

A major question since Carlson’s departure is whether Fox News can recover the big-time ratings.

Jon Nicosia, a media analyst who was an editor for Mediaite, told The Epoch Times that the answer is no.

“What is so devastating about the Tucker situation was that he, unlike others on the network, drew a huge audience in the demo 25 to 54, which for Fox was a great sign,” he said. “And, as you can see, the people that are rotating through there are not delivering the same numbers.”

The fill-in anchors so far have been Brian Kilmeade and Lawrence Jones. This week it will be Kayleigh McEnany.

“Tucker, I believe, is his own brand, and I don’t think that Fox can replicate his energy, legacy, and passion. I think when we look back at this Fox decision, for whatever reason they did, it will be kind of the beginning slide for Fox as the audience fragments more,” added Nicosia. “I also think that in general, every other network will see the same type of decline.”

After all, the ratings of Fox rivals CNN, MSNBC, Newsmax and NewsNation have mostly trailed Fox News’ ratings even with Carlson no longer on air. A notable exception was on April 26 when MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” led the 8 p.m. slot with 1.38 million viewers, or 500,000 more than “Fox News Tonight.”

Fox News declined to comment on the record regarding whether it expects to rebound in the 8 p.m. hour but cited last week’s Nielsen ratings and that advertisers have come back to that slot.

Since Carlson left, according to the Nielsen ratings, CNN has averaged just over 619,555 viewers, while MSNBC has averaged almost 1.36 million viewers—falling short of Fox News’ average of 1.45 million viewers between April 24 and May 4.

But former Fox News stars decried Carlson’s ouster.

“This is a terrible move by Fox, and it’s a great thing for Tucker Carlson,” said Megyn Kelly on her SiriusXM show, “The Megyn Kelly Show,” on April 24.

“I don’t know what drove Fox News to make this decision. And it was clearly Fox News’ decision because they’re not letting him say goodbye,” she said. “That’s my supposition. That’s not inside knowledge … talk about misjudging your audience yet again.”

Bill O’Reilly remarked that Carlson’s exit from Fox News is about more than the network.

“Because the Republican Party, most of it, paid attention to Tucker Carlson,” said O’Reilly on his show, “No Spin News,” on April 24.

“But the Republican profile in the media is much less now. And that will have an effect on mostly independent voters. Because, you know, the word won’t get out as fast, whatever the word may be,” added O’Reilly. “So Carlson had a very successful run at Fox and was very influential among committed conservatives. They’re different than casual conservatives. They’re right there every day.”

Curtis Houck, the managing editor of the conservative media watchdog NewsBusters, previously told The Epoch Times that Fox has shown it can recover when one of its prime-time stars departs.

“Fox shouldn’t be counted out quite yet because when Bill O’Reilly left [in 2017] for far different circumstances, at least we know as of now, under a cloud of repeated [alleged] examples of sexual harassment … there were concerns, ‘What are we going to do? O’Reilly had been the most-watched person in cable news for many, many years, nearly an entire generation or at least half a generation,’” Houck said.

A few days into the week before O’Reilly was fired, while he was on vacation, the ratings in that 8 p.m. hour decreased 26 percent. About 3.6 million viewers tuned in to O’Reilly’s final show.

“But Tucker was then moved from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m., and they ended up not missing a beat,” Houck said. “And even going beyond that, you could say in terms of reach across the ideological spectrum.”

Carlson attracted around 3.2 million viewers following that switch, so history will repeat itself with Carlson’s replacement, right?

Nicosia said not so fast.

“Back then, you saw an uptick in other conservative sites and networks, but it went back to Fox. Because at the time it was Trump/Fox versus the rest of the [mainstream media],” he said. “The playing field is very different now. The audience has a lot more options, and it’s also happening as cable viewers get older.”

Kevin Tober, a news analyst at Media Research Center, noted that O’Reilly and Carlson were not the only prime-time stars to leave Fox News, which he expects to recover from the ratings dip.

“Fox News has been through this twice before with Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, and each time people thought Fox was in trouble because they parted with a wildly popular host,” Tober told The Epoch Times. “But each time Fox recovered because they were able to find a replacement with the talent to attract a massive audience. Fox also always recovers because the liberal networks suppress all the news that Fox reports. “
So who can succeed Carlson?

“I think Jesse Watters would be the most natural choice. He was Bill O’Reilly’s longtime producer. Fox could move him to 8 p.m. and find someone else for the 7 p.m. slot,” said Tober. “You want someone experienced in the 8 p.m. hour. Fox could easily try out people for the 7 p.m. time slot.”

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