Fox News flipped its 7 p.m. from news to opinion — it's a ratings flop

The last-place network

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Desperate to stave off its 2021 ratings slide, as disaffected Fox News viewers turn elsewhere for their right-wing misinformation following Trump's election defeat, Rupert Murdoch's channel made a key programming switch last month. Its 7 p.m. anchor, Martha MacCallum, who hosted what Fox identified as one of its serious "news side" programs, was demoted and the key time slot was handed over to a new opinion show, "Primetime."

For now, a roster of possible hosts are auditioning for the full-time time job, include “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, and South Carolina Republican former congressman Trey Gowdy. None of them could ever be mistaken for a journalist, as "Primetime" busies itself pumping out a treadmill of lies and misinformation.

The abrupt scheduling move was seen as a slightly panicked attempt to secure faltering viewership, as Fox News' grip on its decades-long lead over CNN and MSNBC continued to weaken. But like everything else Fox tries these days, the 7 p.m. move hasn't worked. Since its debut on January 18, "Primetime" has finished in last place every night among the three cable news networks. It has finished last among viewers 25-54, the demographic that advertisers are most interested in, and it has finished last among all viewers.

On some nights, its competitors have trounced "Primetime". On January 19, the Fox News show landed 343,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo, compared to 1.1 million demo viewers who tuned into CNN, and 566,000 for MSNBC during the 7 p.m. time slot. For January 18, "Primetime" attracted 313,000 demo viewers, compared to 727,000 and 438,000 for CNN  and MSNBC, respectively.

Worse the for the network, "Primetime" loses Fox viewers who tune out right before the 7 p.m. program begins, and then they jump back in after "Primetime" ends at 8 p.m. The show's struggles represent just a small part of the network's growing woes as Fox News posts some of its worst ratings in decades.

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Two things are happening. First, one portion of the audience is depressed following Trump's loss, as well as his silent retreat to Mar-a-Lago. Without any social media presence, and refusing to do any media interviews, Trump has effectively disappeared from the political landscape, robbing Fox News of a chance to pump out hours and days worth of Trump programming.

Secondly, a portion of Fox's loyal base has abandoned the network in favor of fringe players, such as OAN and NewsmaxTV, which played along with Trump over the winter and pretended it wasn't possible to tell who won the 2020 election.

"Those viewers punished Fox News the moment they reported that Biden won Arizona, and they haven’t stopped," former CNN president Joe Klein told the Daily Beast. "It’s like when that chimp you raised from a baby tears your face off. Now the question is what is Rupert Murdoch willing to do to get them back?” (Fox News recently fired two key executives who oversaw the network's accurate prediction that Biden had won the Southwest state.)

Politically, the splintering of the right-wing media represents a major setback for the Republican Party, which has relied on Fox News for more than 20 years to serve as a megaphone for the GOP. Since its launch, the network has provided billions of dollars in free marketing and promotion for the Republican Party and its causes, functioning as a de facto, in-house propaganda outlet.

Today, as the conservative movement and conservative media splinter between the far right and the extreme far right, Republicans can no longer assume they're reaching the party's base via Fox, because a part of that base has exited.

As hardcore viewers migrate, the network's ratings spiral. This week, Fox News not only fell out of first place among the three cable news channels, it fell into last place, a once-unthinkable industry development.

"Fox News’ embarrassing third-place showing is the continuation of a downward trend in which the right-leaning outlet lost 2020’s fourth quarter to CNN and alienated Trump-supporting loyal viewers by calling Arizona early for Joe Biden during its Election Night coverage," reported the Daily Beast.

"This month, CNN’s audience grew triple digits, while Fox was down double digits vs. a year ago," crowed a CNN press release this week. "Fox’s rankings dropped to the network’s lowest in 20 years." (You think CNN and MSNBC aren't enjoying this?)  That 20-year time frame is telling, because it was the terror attack of 9/11, and then the Iraq War in 2003, that propelled then-fledgling Fox News past CNN and into the ratings stratosphere, as Murdoch's network rallied around the flag and denounced Democrats as terrorist sympathizers.  Now all those viewership gains have been lost in the post-Trump era.

January was a disaster for Fox News. While CNN's viewership was up 128 percent in total viewers in prime time for the month compared to January 2019, and MSNBC was up 53 percent, Fox was down 13 percent. In January, MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" drew 4.1 million viewers at 9 p.m., easily beating Fox News' "Hannity," which logged 3.1 million. Last year, Hannity averaged 4.4 million viewers each night, which means he's lost more than one-quarter of his audience in just a matter of months.

For now, Fox News' 7 p.m. time slot continues to flounder, posting weak numbers as the confused network chases after the GOP's fractured base.

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(photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

📽 GOOD STUFF:

There’s been a lot of commentary and reporting on the speeches that were made at Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, hours before his murderous, insurrectionist mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. Questions have been raised about whether that rhetoric helped fans the flames of violence.

But what about the propaganda movie that was shown that morning to thousands of supporters? Writing at Just Security, Jason Stanley provides a detailed decoding.

From, “Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda” :

To a scholar of fascist propaganda, well-versed in the history of the National Socialist’s pioneering use of videos in political propaganda, it was clear, watching it, what dangers it portended. In it, we see themes and tactics that history warns pose a violent threat to liberal democracy. Given the aims of fascist propaganda – to incite and mobilize – the events that followed were predictable.

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🎙 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

John Fogerty, “Weeping in the Promised Land”

Adopting a slow gospel build with sparse piano accompaniment, the former Creedence Clearwater Revival singer delivers a poignant portrait of America during the Trump years. Listening to the new song, there’s some comfort from the fact that parts of “Weeping” can now be experienced in the past tense.

Forked-tongued pharaoh, behold he comes to speak
Weeping in the Promised Land
Hissing and spewing, it's power that he seeks
Weeping in the Promised Land
With dread in their eyes, all the nurses are crying
So much sorrow, so much dying