A Trump defeat would create an even more rabid Fox

Trump’s comfort with Fox’s universe is obvious

  
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) speaks to media mogul Rupert Murdoch as they walk out of Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) speaks to media mogul Rupert Murdoch as they walk out of Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016.

Reuters/Carlo Allegri

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

NEW YORK  - It’s hard to think of an American president with a more symbiotic media relationship than Donald Trump’s with Fox News. The risk for the $16 billion company’s shareholders is that a victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden would rob the network of its biggest celebrity. But don’t count owner Rupert Murdoch out. Doubling down on division may be the cure.

Trump’s comfort with Fox’s universe is obvious. He regularly phones in to its morning show. Host Sean Hannity has spoken at a “Make America Great Again” rally. Anchor Maria Bartiromo was Trump’s first stop after his Covid-19 diagnosis. Commentator Lou Dobbs acts as an informal advisor.

The president is also a big booster. A Media Matters for America analysis of Trump’s Twitter feed over two years found he tweeted in response to programs on Fox’s cable networks 1,146 times, or roughly 8% of his total.

The former reality TV star’s backing has been good for ratings. Fox News recently crowed that it was the first cable network ever to surpass all general broadcast outlets - ABC, NBC and CBS - in total weekday primetime ratings in the third quarter with about 4 million viewers on average.

A Biden sweep could be a threat in other ways. Democrats might target Fox with greater regulation as is happening in Australia with a petition calling on parliament to investigate Murdoch’s empire as a monopoly. Trump could also decide to launch his own competing outlet.

Since Murdoch sold his entertainment assets to Walt Disney, Fox News has become the key plank of his empire. The news channel and Fox Business account for approximately 85% of cable network EBITDA, or more than $2 billion for the 12 months ending June 30, estimates MoffettNathanson. That division represented nearly all the parent’s EBITDA.

Murdoch built Fox as a haven for conservatives. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the network overtook rivals as the top cable news network. That trend held even during Barack Obama’s presidency. Pew Research recently found that 65% of Republicans polled trust Fox for political information more than any other outlet, while 61% of Democrats distrust it.

With that division, a Biden presidency could serve as a perfect foil for out-of-power Trump supporters, making an even more rabid Fox the logical business model for Murdoch.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Fox News said on Sept. 29 it was the first cable network to ever surpass all broadcast networks in weekday primetime with total viewers for a full quarter, citing Nielsen research.

- Fox will report quarterly earnings on Nov. 3.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

(Editing by Rob Cox and Karen Kwok) ((jennifer.saba@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: jennifer.saba.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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