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The Downside of Fox’s Conservative Consolidation

October 20, 2009
There is a peril in Fox's conservative consolidation

Not necessarily all good news, for Fox or Dobbs.

Over the weekend, I recounted news that Lou Dobbs may leave CNN for Fox Business. With Fox’s acquisition of John Stossel and Tucker Carlson, NewsCorp entities are well on their way to becoming the home of most conservative television personalities. This leaves CNN with Dobbs, Bill Bennett, Ed Rollins, and sorta Republican David Gergen; MSNBC has Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan.

Properly executed, the move could benefit everyone: Dobbs is more ideologically at home with Fox, and FB would gain Dobbs’s unmatched financial reporting and the viewers he would bring to the struggling network. If Dobbs could connect with as sizable an audience there as at CNN, it would be a win-win situation. But there is a definite downside to this conservative consolidation — for Fox, the commentators, and conservatism.

Fox would love to boast that it had gained virtually the last remaining center-Right news program on any competing network. However, a shrewd programmer has to arrange his talent for maximum ratings. Television and radio are different than the web, where unlimited virtual space means one can simply put up a new link or add a new website for a budding star. Since there are only so many hours of prime time in broadcasting, eventually someone who would anchor a prime time show on another network may end up being relegated to an undesirable time slot. Even in this era of TiVo, that means drawing an unnaturally small audience and making less of an impact than he would elsewhere.  Since rational organizations give the greatest influence and rewards to those who draw the most viewers/readers, an overabundance of talent can mean first-rate employees receive second-rank treatment. In other words, poor scheduling leads to buried talent, which is bad news for the commentator.

For the network, having several personalities with a single outlook leads to topic (and conclusion) redundancy. As readers of this blog know, that is why MSNBC is so dull. (Four hosts, including one rebroadcast, all saying: “Blue Dog Democrats are evil! The town hall protesters are Astroturf, tea-bagging racists!”….) The alternatives are viewpoint diversity or the network micromanaging each show to avoid tedium. This is part of Fox’s advantage: it also employs center-Left commentators like Juan Williams, Alan Colmes, Bob Beckel, Geraldo, and (I’ve always assumed) Greta. On MSNBC, one is only left to guess whether tonight’s guest will be from The Huffington Post or Nation.

If Fox acquires all the name conservatives, that gives the other networks even more incentive to neglect conservative coverage, because Fox is (as the White House is currently crusading to portray them) “the conservative network.” As it stands, CNN viewers are exposed to center-Right views at least two hours a night, and FB programming is conservative at that time, as well. If Dobbs is replaced by a center-Left anchor, it circumscribes the range of opinion and of news consumers who come into contact with a different point of view. If a line-up change gives networks cover to fortify a single-viewpoint commentary, that’s a loss in its own right.

Finally, if Dobbs does not get as many viewers on Fox Business as he did on CNN, it will be construed either as a failure of Fox Business or a rejection of Dobbs’ message, either of which will be construed as failures of conservatism.

These concerns will probably remain hypothetical. Even if Dobbs makes the leap, having two networks to program should provide sufficient flexibility — to incorporate Dobbs. But down the road, there must be more outlets, less commentary, or the inevitable onset of the law of diminishing returns.

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20 Comments
  1. Sam Beltran permalink
    October 21, 2009 4:22 am

    Yes there is less prime time, but isn’t that audience shrinking as we go to the internet. There we can pick and choose which of the studio shows we want when we want. I don’t even use TiVo, just pick what I want off the internet. Why else would the obamination want to control the master outlet of the future.

  2. David Forsmark permalink
    October 21, 2009 5:55 am

    Great point, Ben. I kind of had the same feeling when Glenn Beck first came to Fox, that it meant there was now another audience with no conservative voice, kind of like bringing missionaries home to the Bible Belt.

    On the other hand, Fox is gaining viewers as the other stations shed them, and anything that hastens that process is good. David Axelrod revealed the White Houses real agenda in the war on Fox the other day when he warned other news orgs not to emulate them. If Fox continues to gain audience– which I’m not convinced Dobbs will do, but Stossel sure will, other news outlets will emulate or continue to wither.

    Though as a “conservative” Dobbs makes even O’Reilly seem intellectually consistent. He surely is not a free-market guy, more of a populist, suspicious of big government, patriotic, (but the one guy who may actually deserve the xenophobic title at times). I guess right of center is correct, but I’ve never been able to watch more than about 5 minutes of his show. I guess the business channel is the place for him.

    Stosell, however, is an exciting addition, though you hate to see him out of broadcast primetime. The few minutes a week he has at ABC, despite higher ratings there, can not make up for the many new features he will be able to do on a 24/7 news network. Also, he WILL bring viewers, probably lots of viewers.

    Fox has been touting lately that they have more viewers at 3AM than CNN has in primetime. That’s damning, but not as damning as it sounds. 3AM EST is when Fox’s unique and excellent Red Eye has its first run. I would sure like to see that moved up in the schedule, despite the fact that would ruin their latest ratings talking point!

    • del permalink
      October 21, 2009 6:54 am

      @David I think you hit the nail on the head. Dobbs and Stosell are (potentially) bring brought over for entirely different reasons, but to attain the same goal: increased viewership. Should this continue to play our to Fox’s advantage–and I think it will– the real fun will be in watching the other’s attempt to reestablish themselves.

  3. Judy permalink
    October 21, 2009 5:58 am

    In our area we have comcast. Fox Business is part of a package that includes the soap opera, science, NGO, hallmark, etc for a measely 20 bucks more a month. We do not pay the extra. I am guessing many of comcast’s subscribers throughout the US have to do the same and wish to not pay the extra.
    I am disappointed that Dobbs is going to FB only because I am not a Shepherd Smith fan and would switch to Dobbs at that time.

    • Bob Schwalbaum permalink
      October 21, 2009 11:35 am

      Absolutly right.. Shephard Smith defines “smarmy”

      I will miss Lou Dobbs if he switches, as my cable does NOT have FNB

  4. Janet permalink
    October 21, 2009 7:30 am

    Judy,
    I, too, contract with Comcast, and do not wish to pay the upcharge for FBN, although I’ve been annoyed sufficiently to “demand it” as Neil Cavuto instructs, from time to time, but to no avail. In that CNBC and Bloomburg are free to us, don’t we have some kind of a case here. It’s been bugging me since FBN arrived on the scene, and I’d like to see all who feel the same way collectively revolt. I have the option of Verizon wherein the comparable contract would include it, but the hassle of changing (I have the triple play) would be costly and a pain.

    • Prudent Man, CFA permalink
      October 21, 2009 8:30 am

      Janet and Judy,

      I have been an investment professional for fifty years and if your are looking to get valuable investment or business information from FBN (I am with Comcast and upgraded to get entertained by Imus), CNBC or Bloomberg you are wasting your time and maybe your wealth. They are all loaded with shallow, incompetent,incompleted, misguiding and often corrupt information. Anyone in the investment business who is “giving” you his opinion has an ulterior motive and you are the bait. Wall Street is not a place for you to make money it is for the “House” to make money. It is your money and you are, I assume, consulting adults.

  5. Prudent Man, CFA permalink
    October 21, 2009 8:22 am

    Running Dobbs on FBN following the best interviewer in the business, Neil Cavuto, would be a great move. Does anyone watch Shepard Smith, who is as liberal as Olbermann? Many viewers switch from Fox, after Bret Bair, to Dobbs on CNN.

    The downside could be for Dobbs, who is often philosophically conflicted, but Roger Ailes is a genius when it comes to programming. I haven’t seen any numbers but I don’t doubt Imus added many viewers to FBN.

    Personally, I take all media with a large grain of salt and look at business news as sophomoric, shallow and dangerous to any investors wealth. Fortunately we can use the web to distinguish between what is newsworthy and what is entertainment. Anyone who doesn’t verify what information they get from the media is usually misinformed, regardless of the outlet.

  6. Prudent Man, CFA permalink
    October 21, 2009 8:40 am

    Fox should dump the airheads on “Happy Hour” and put something substantive in its place. Aside from being dumb they look like they were just hauled off of Times Square, a problem some others at Fox have, especially on weekends and in the morning. I know that they are trying to take the barroom crowd away from Oprah but show a little class.

    There are plenty of places for Dobbs as well as Stossel. Dobbs was the king of business shows during the eighties. There is more upside than downside with Dobbs. Back in the fifties NBC (like GM – ugh) had over fifty percent of the evening news. You have a good product they will come. Fox has an excellent product.

  7. Walt permalink
    October 21, 2009 8:48 am

    I would say that CNN and MSNBC either curtailed or marginalized their more effective conservative pundits. Glen Beck stated that he was fairly circumscribed as to what he could do on CNN. Tucker Carlson, while he was at MSNBC, found himself relegated to ever more marginal positions at that network as its leftist tilt became more consolidated. I am fairly certain that if either CNN or MSNBC had genuinely desired to keep these people, they would have. Being a token conservative on a leftist network, like Buchanan or Scarborough at MSNBC, is of little value, since you are treated as a freak or trophy in such an environment. Also, the Buchanan and Scarbrough types tend to reinforce negative sterotypes about conservatives in the eyes of liberals and moderates,especially in the case of Buchanan. Having one personality who believes that Hitler was misunderstood and the other who fawns over Katrina van den Heuvel like a love sick school boy makes it fairly clear that MSNBC is not interested in a genuine convervative viewpoint on its network. The situation at CNN is similar, if not as intense as MSNBC, regarding conservative perspectives. Also, as a side note, it is really hard to classify David Gergen as a conservative, since his employment with the Clinton Adminitration.

    • Bob Schwalbaum permalink
      October 21, 2009 11:41 am

      Anyone who would label David Gergen a Republican.. has been duped by the folks at CNN who trot him out when they want the “other side” and instead, get some not so sly digs at the conservative viewpoint.

      I truly despise the man.

      • Fritz Becker permalink
        October 21, 2009 7:00 pm

        I don’t even hear what Gergen says anymore, I just can’t stop staring at that comb over. CNN seems to haul him out whenever they need a token “Conservative” and can’t find Ed Rollins or anyone else. Sometimes he’s on four or five shows per day, I’m beginning to wonder if he has an apartment above the studio or something.

    • David Forsmark permalink
      October 21, 2009 11:57 am

      “Having one personality who believes that Hitler was misunderstood and the other who fawns over Katrina van den Heuvel like a love sick school boy makes it fairly clear that MSNBC is not interested in a genuine convervative viewpoint on its network.”
      That’s good stuff, Walt!

  8. Janet permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:10 am

    Prudent Man,
    I only watch CNBC early on, because I love Joe Kernin(?) and I’m especially happy when Jack Welch visits. I like to look at the futures so that I can anticipate how much I might lose that day, and I seldom listen to advice, I’m too old for that.

  9. Janet permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:14 am

    I don’t watch Shep Smith, I guess I’m cleaning up the kitchen about then, but if he’s a lib like Prudent Man suggests, maybe we should advise the White House, they might lighten up on us, Fox that is.

  10. BillSoCAl permalink
    October 21, 2009 12:49 pm

    I was just in a supermarket today. I saw one of the supermarket rags with a front page headline that Comrade Obama has said Crush Glenn Beck. Don’t they know that this is just going to bring more attention to the people and FoxNews when they go after them. I forgot they just plain don’t remember history do they. It is not taught anymore in the schools or colleges is it.

  11. Fritz Becker permalink
    October 21, 2009 6:31 pm

    It should be pointed out that John Stossel fancies himself as a libertarian not a conservative and that Lou Dobbs is more of an independent populist. Stossel has been off the air for a while so he isn’t being drawn away from another network and from what he said on Glenn Beck’s radio show he is going to be a reporter for Fox not host of an Op-Ed show.
    I would not put the blame on Fox, the environment at CNN and the other networks must be extremely hostile for anyone to the right of Ho Chi Min so it isn’t surprising that so many have jumped on board with Fox. I sincerely hope that Lou Dobbs stays with CNN, not for balance so much but because, like Glen Beck, I will no longer be able to watch his program other then through You Tube or the like. Since I reside in Canada I am forbidden by the Canadian Radio-Television Communications Commission from receiving Fox news due to our resident Maoists and Stalinists in Toronto.

    • Yidith permalink
      October 22, 2009 7:03 am

      What nonsense; I also live in Toronto and I DO get Fox News! I have cable and my brother- also in Toronto- get’s his line-up whichalso includes Fox News via a satelite connection. so Canuck neighbour; stop speading lies about our “True North” please?

      • Fritz Becker permalink
        October 22, 2009 7:03 pm

        What lies am I speading, I never said that you couldn’t get Fox news by satellite (you can get anything that way), I said that “I” can’t get it by cable. If you can get Fox News then I would like to know which cable company offers it? It was my understanding that the CRTC would not allow Canadian cable subscribers to receive Fox News, at least that has been their policy for at least ten years.
        As I recall a local station used to air the Rush Limbaugh television show in the Toronto area in the mid 90’s but was forced to take it off the air when the resident lefties complained to the CRTC. To me it is highly surprising that the same group that had Rush kicked off the TV would allow Fox News on cable.

  12. Fritz Becker permalink
    October 21, 2009 6:52 pm

    I don’t entirely agree with the conclusions given regarding personalities moving from one network to the next. It would seem to me based on a flawed notion of zero sum economics, that if one right of center opinion maker moves from network “A” to network “B” means that one network gains and another loses as though there is a finite supply.
    There is definitely an imbalance at MSNBC, but that is largely through their own doing. Since Tim Russert passed away the leftists have taken over the editorship of NBC’s news division and have been attempting to purge anyone who doesn’t have an Obama poster above their bed from the company. In other words it was a political based ideological decision to go left, not a market based one, and the ratings prove it. If you are wondering why Keith Olbermann always has guests on from The Huffington Post or The Nation look at it this way, if you were a Conservative would you want to face the psychotic rantings of Olbermann on air? Unless someone is an absolute masochist who would subject themselves to that level of abuse from a failed and demented sportscaster?

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