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The Power Of Television Advertising Walkouts


Bill O'Reilly's departure from Fox News was hastened when advertisers abandoned his show in droves. "The O'Reilly Factor" was a big moneymaker for the network, but many advertisers didn't want to be associated with the program once it became known that the anchor and the network had paid $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against him.

These developments demonstrate how advertisers can influence the fate of even a popular cable news show, and it raises questions about how this might affect the profitability of Fox News. Well, writer Jeanine Poggi of Advertising Age joins us from New York to tackle those questions. Welcome to the program.

JEANINE POGGI: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And what might be the damage to Fox? How much did O'Reilly bring into the network?

POGGI: Yeah, so in 2016, O'Reilly brought in close to $150 million in ad revenue, and that is about 19 percent of Fox News' total ad revenue for the year. So it's definitely a large sum, and out of all of the anchors on Fox News, he definitely brought in the lion's share of ad revenue.

SIEGEL: Well, what about his replacement, Tucker Carlson? He'll have the same time slot. Should we see revenues remain about the same or drop?

POGGI: I think pretty similar. He - Tucker Carlson - since coming in and replacing Megyn Kelly earlier in the year, his ratings have done pretty well. You know, he's actually improved Megyn Kelly's time slot. And just in the first quarter, his ratings in the core 25 to 54 demo, which is what advertisers care about in news, were pretty similar to O'Reilly's. So I think that he should be a strong replacement for O'Reilly.

Of course, you know, O'Reilly had a very loyal core audience that - and he was one of the biggest faces of the network and, across cable, one of the strongest shows. So it will be difficult to replicate what he did, but I think Tucker Carlson will at least be able to bring in a good chunk of those viewers.

SIEGEL: But the time slot he's in now, what used to be Megyn Kelly's, that's the hour after the 8 o'clock hour.

POGGI: Correct. So he is in the 9 o'clock hour currently and will be moved up to 8 o'clock.

SIEGEL: The end for O'Reilly seemed to come pretty quickly after the advertisers left his show. Is that what did it?

POGGI: Yeah, I think in - a big part of it was. You know, very shortly after The New York Times report, we saw some of the automakers quickly pull out of "The O'Reilly Factor," and almost about 60 or so advertisers followed suit. It was a very quick chain effect mostly due to consumer outcry and some of the outcry from some of these other groups like Color for Change and Media Matter and UltraViolet, who were pretty outspoken in getting some of the advertisers to pull out of the show.

SIEGEL: Well, the advertisers were responding to that public pressure. Do you think that the case of those groups calling for sponsors to abandon O'Reilly and O'Reilly's being let go - do you think that'll change the way advertisers respond to future cases of alleged bad or illegal behavior?

POGGI: I do. I think that there is increased pressure on brands to make sure that they are appearing in programs that are brand-safe and that are not filled with controversies like these. I think that social media especially puts a lot of pressure on brands to stay away from drama like this. And I think going forward, you'll see more marketers make decisions not necessarily based on consumer outcry but make them proactively and do it before it even gets to that point.

SIEGEL: Jeanine Poggi, writer for Advertising Age, thanks for talking with us.

POGGI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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