In November 2020, days after President-elect Joe Biden delivered his first of many hollow “time to heal” speeches, Daily Beast Editor-At-Large Molly Jong-Fast came swinging at Fox News.
Her column, “Fox News is No Longer Insane Enough for Its Viewers,” while correct in its assertion that the network has dropped in ratings, erroneously postulates that it is because the cable news channel failed to provide “an endless montage of ‘boomer outrage porn,’ like videos of people dressed in black clothing who were deemed ‘antifa’.” Instead, she argues that Fox “wanted to play things straight” on election night, and not pedal in conspiracy theories.
There is one glaring contradiction with this tautology. The idea that Fox virtuously “rose above” the supposedly “tin-foil” hat wearing GOP on election night is ill-supported. In fact, they dove for cover — trying to save face — and furnished conservatives with a bitter sense of neglect.
Fox took hours to call Florida for Mr. Trump, questionably waiting on portions of the Panhandle region that is as red as can possibly be. Then came the call for Mr. Biden in Arizona. With only 73% of the vote tally in and hundreds of thousands of Republican votes remaining, and Mr. Biden leading by a slim 70,000 votes, the state was called. CNN, NBC News, ABC and Reuters, to name a few, had not called Arizona preliminarily for this obvious reason. Maricopa County would prove to yield much for Mr. Trump.
Ratings make clear that Fox News dropped the ball on election night. Two weeks after the election, “Ingraham Angle” was down 45%, “Fox and Friends” down 45% even “Hannity” by 39% and “Tucker” by 33%. For the first time ever, in early December, Newsmax beat Fox News in a Nielson rating concerning those aged 25 to 54 years old — by 26,000 viewers. Newsmax also increased average viewership to a whopping 568,000 post-election, compared to 58,000 on weekday mornings prior. In fact, for the first time since 9/11, CNN outperformed Fox News by a margin of 1.73 million viewers to 1.56 million (measured on Dec. 6).
This is not to say Fox is crumbling. By any standard, Fox is still a thriving enterprise with lively personalities like Mr. Tucker, Mr. Hannity and Ms. Ingraham, that had no input in the network’s decisions on election night. Fox averaged 1.9 million viewers per day, according to 2020 Nielson data, “and 3.6 million in primetime.” The rise of Newsmax is an interesting one — as President Trump has become a major backer. But it remains unclear whether the platform will trample Fox News. It would be equally naive, though, for us to ignore the streaming, podcast and social media revolution that will no doubt continue into 2021 — and could inevitably supplant all of cable news.
Cable is a dying breed. Between 2017 and 2019, Comcast and DirecTV forfeited 4.7 million subscribers. Sixty-nine percent of people now subscribe to a streaming service, versus only 65% who strictly pay for cable. In June 2020, DecisionData.org found that the average subscribing household spends $217.42 per month on a cable package.
This is compared to streaming services such as Netflix ($13.99/mo.), Hulu (5.99/mo.), Disney+ ($6.99/mo.), FubuTV ($54.99/mo. for 95 channels and 30 hours of DVR space), and more uniquely affordable services. Instead of being forced to pay for channels one will never interact with, they can selectively determine — like the argument against net-neutrality — which platforms they want to pay for based on usage.
In short, pay for what you need.
According to Apple Podcast Charts in the U.S., several conservatives are fundamentally changing the way we get news. “The Dan Bongino Show” ranks at #17 nationwide without respect to category, and “The Ben Shapiro Show” at #26 — and is on more than 200 stations and reaching 90% of the top 10 markets. Steve Bannon’s podcast comes at #2 nationwide behind NPR, followed by “The Rush Limbaugh Show” at #4, and “The Tim Pool Daily Show” at #6 (up three spots as of recent).
There are notable rising organizations that are openly aiming to take down the legacy media. TheBlaze has an impressive collection of podcasts such as “Louder with Crowder,” “The Glenn Beck Program,” “The Rubin Report” and “Relatable with Allie Beth Stuckney.”
BlazeTV can be streamed on Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, Amazon FireTV, and other programs. The Daily Wire recently announced the hiring of commentator and podcast host Candace Owens, who will host a live show in 2021. In July 2020, it was reported that the Daily Wire was the top Facebook publisher in the world at 98,884,225 engagements — leading CNN by about 8 million and Fox by about 13 million. Newsmax was nowhere near the top 20. The Daily Wire, similarly, can be streamed on various devices.
Needless to say, Twitter has also fostered a continuous flow of news that was not previously accessible in the strictly cable news era. It is a free platform that gives viewers even more control over what they hear, and how they hear it — which certainly has its pros and cons. But gone are the days of solely waiting patiently for the nightly news; the nightly news is delivered in doses throughout the day.
The fact is that how the world is getting their news is changing in drastic, unforeseen ways. Across the board, cable news is struggling to appeal based on cost, practicality, accessibility and product offering. Fox is no enemy of the conservative movement: not by a long shot — though it did certainly blunder during the election, and it will cost them in some capacity. This blunder, though, will not remotely be the predominant reason Fox is slowly gained on, or hence supplanted, by neo-media products and services.
Newsmax has made headway in 2020 in the cablesphere, but it is unclear whether this headway will shift the mainstream monopoly of news in their favor. Instead, this shift may be a minute transfer of power in a fleeting industry — inevitably leading audiences to alternative, cutting-edge, independent media.
• Gabe Kaminsky is a spring Academy Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on twitter at @Gabe__Kaminsky.