Some are celebrating, others lamenting Bill O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News after a string of sexual allegations aimed at the TV host forced the network to dismiss him on Wednesday. But one entity in particular is likely to be wringing its hands and experiencing major anxiety over this latest development — namely, the very network that let him go.
The loss of O’Reilly could represent a staggering loss to the ratings and ad revenue amassed by the Fox News network as a whole. O’Reilly’s popular program brought in millions of viewers every night and generated for itself a devoted and loyal following among its fans.
And indeed, that loyalty showed. In 2002, Bill O’Reilly rose to become the most popular cable news host of any network on TV. His show, The O’Reilly Factor, would go on to dominate the ratings ever since and make him a key staple of the Fox News stable.
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) April 20, 2017
The decision to pull the plug on O’Reilly was ultimately a matter of protecting the network’s image and had nothing to do with the show’s popularity. Rupert Murdoch, who owns the parent company of Fox News, sent out a memo to staff that emphasized the host’s achievement in gaining viewership.
“By ratings standards, Bill O’Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news,” the memo read. “In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable.”
Having successfully won the hearts of so many Fox News’ viewers, the sudden yanking of his show from the airwaves will likely leave a gaping hole in the network, despite Fox News’ announcement that Tucker Carlson will replace him at the 8 p.m. ET time slot.
Per the LATimes, “The consensus in the TV news industry is that losing O’Reilly’s program — which averaged 3.98 million viewers in the first quarter of 2017 — could drive down ratings for the entire Fox News prime-time lineup by about 25%.”
One particular threat the network faces is a general backlash against the move to force O’Reilly out, which might entail either a boycott of the network or even the possibility of large numbers of individuals canceling their cable subscriptions altogether. In fact, there’s already been a natural move away from cable in recent weeks, with many people electing to get their entertainment and news from cheaper platforms. Bill O’Reilly’s departure gives faithful fans of his one less reason to keep up their costly subscriptions and also provides them with the chance of having their disapproval felt by Fox, which makes money on these subscriptions through affiliate fees.
And then there’s the matter of lost ad revenue. Though there’s some doubt about how much money the show brought in from ad revenue, with one analyst putting the figure below $100 million, others have suggested a more impressive $325 million for 2015-2016, which would make it the highest revenue producer for any show on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN.
Though Tucker Carlson is swooping in to replace O’Reilly, there’s no guarantee he can generate the same widespread appeal as his “No Spin Zone” forebear, who in many ways became the face of Fox News over the course of his long career.
Other high-profile figures have also left the network recently. Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, got the boot nine months earlier as he confronted his own slew of sexual harassment allegations. And Megyn Kelly, a rising talent on the network who had hosted her own nightly program, decided to leave Fox News to join up with NBC.
The loss of O’Reilly, however, may cause the most complications for the network, given his position as the leading host for all those years. How viewers will react to the change remains to be seen. There’s likely to be some degree of blowback, but to what extent, only time will tell.
[Featured Image by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images]