ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Will Glenn Beck Out-Fox His Network?

GlennBeck Glenn Beck (in a photograph by David Shankbone at right) and Fox News are as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly.  Or so we thought.  But Beck’s contract expires this December, and his declining viewership and problems with advertisers have led Fox News to start “contemplating life without Mr. Beck” according to the New York Times.

We learn from the New York Daily News that, during the first quarter of this year, Beck lost more than 1/3 of his audience, or more than one million viewers. He's lost more viewers than Keith Olbermann ever had.  Plus, according to the Kansas City Star, the viewers lost were predominantly young viewers: Beck lost nearly half of his 18-49 year old audience and nearly 40% of the 24-54 year old crowd.

Perhaps more importantly, Beck has had longstanding problem with advertisers. After Beck went on Fox and Friends and informed us all of President Obama’s “deep-seated hatred of white people”, around 300 advertisers bolted, as the New York Times noted, leaving Beck and Fox News relying on various gold dealers for advertising revenues. Fox News seemed, at first, to be willing to remain committed until death do them part and overlook the advertiser flight. But, according to AOL's Daily Finance site, as more and more advertisers choose Hardball or The Situation Room over Beck, the Beck taboo has become increasingly difficult for Fox to ignore. On top of that, TVNewser reports that when Beck recently went on vacation for a week, former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano filled-in and maintained the show’s ratings, perhaps because of his special feature in which he reviewed recent posts from the ContractsProf Blog.

As Seneca counsels, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” In this case, the demise of contract negotiations between Fox News and Glenn Beck could lead Beck to boldly go where Oprah has gone before: The New York Times suggests that he is considering forming his own cable channel. Despite recent losses in viewership, The Belfast Telegraph compiles evidence that Beck still retains a loyal following: his nationally syndicated radio show is the third most listened to in the country, his numerous books have consistently enjoyed great sales, and he can still summon 100,000-plus to travel cross-country and attend his rallies.

Not everyone is on-board with the idea, however. Marc Babej at Forbes argues that the idea is a non-starter. He points out key distinctions between the Oprah Winfrey Network and a possible Glenn Beck Network. Reverence for Oprah is near-universal, whereas Beck promotes a divisive, us vs. them politics. Oprah has been a landmark in television for quite some time, while Beck is a relative new kid on the block. Finally, Oprah has a proven track record of earning her investors a consistent return. Beck has profited greatly, but also shed substantial advertisers and viewers as of late, making such a venture risky.

Perhaps Beck is allowing rumors of a Glenn Beck Network to flourish in order to gain leverage in his upcoming contract negotiations with Fox. But it would not be inconceivable for Beck to make such a move. If it occurred, according to the Times, it would be a “landmark moment for the media industry, reflecting a shift in the balance of power between media institutions and the personal brands of people they employ.” All of this is contingent on the fact that the Progressives don’t nationalize television first. We shall see.

[Jon Kohlscheen & JT]

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