Can Tucker Carlson Be a Success With All His Advertisers Gone?

With cable news viewership at or near its peak in the Trump era, you’ll hear a lot about network ratings. Since late 2018, the rise of Rachel Maddow and MSNBC has been among the big stories. But that hasn’t meant a change atop the rankings.

Fox News, which has unofficially morphed into a state-media network, has held onto No. 1 in the ratings through the first quarter of 2019. Even with the success of Maddow, Morning Joe, and Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC continues to trail the conservative channel.

In March, Fox’s biggest success story came with Tucker Carlson Tonight. For the first time ever, Tucker’s show took first place among all cable-news shows in the coveted 25-54 demographic. But that doesn’t mean the same things for Fox News that it would on other networks.

Since advertisers began abandoning Tucker’s show, total ad revenue has fallen by about half. That means Fox News can chiefly use viewer demand for Tucker as a selling point for cable operators these days.

Ad revenue for ‘Tucker’ fell by $44 million in 2018.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 29: Fox News host Tucker Carlson discusses ‘Populism and the Right’ during the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tucker began losing advertisers late in 2018 when he said immigrants made the country “dirtier.” In March, many more sponsors left after Media Matters for America (MMFA) unearthed Tucker’s offensive comments about women on a radio show between 2006-11.

By The Hollywood Reporter’s count, Tucker had lost half his advertisers (from 36 to 18) during that four-month stretch. Instead of featuring Lexus or Jenny Craig commercials, viewers have been seeing Fox News promos or MyPillow ads of the “call-now” variety.

That’s taken a financial toll on the network. According to Kantar data reported by Variety, ad revenue for Tucker fell by $44.4 million between 2017 ($92.7 million) and 2018 ($48.3 million). As a percentage, it comes to about 48% less.

But that isn’t Fox’s only way to make money. The network’s guaranteed spot in cable packages ensures it can pull in solid revenues even with fewer advertisers.

How Fox News wades through the advertiser boycotts

Fox News host Tucker Carlson in March 2019 | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When speaking about the advertiser bans, industry analysts have explained why they haven’t been fatal for Tucker. Since Fox News will always be a part of major cable packages, the network will continue to collect high subscription fees. (One analyst told THR this was more important than ads.)

Meanwhile, the other shows not currently being boycotted can collect top-dollar from advertisers. (After similar boycotts of The Ingraham Angle over the past few years, some advertisers returned.)

Nonetheless, it’s an odd situation to have the top show in the key news demographic without capitalizing on it. Fox News definitely feels it every time executives have to explain the losses to shareholders.

It puts the network in an odd situation. In order to keep its viewers, it has to keep the inflammatory (frequently racist and xenophobic) commentary coming from Tucker and Ingraham. If the network drops either host, it would lose viewers, thus dinging its viewership.

As long as Fox News keeps them on the air, some advertisers won’t come near Tucker and other hosts. So there’s a limit to how much success someone like Tucker can have — even with the best ratings in the business.

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