Nearly 50 advertisers have either pulled their ads from cable news’s No. 1 program, The O’Reilly Factor in response to a New York Times investigation detailing five harassment cases against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. According to the report, O’Reilly and the company he works for paid out $13 million to settle the cases.
A high-level executive at one of the world’s largest media agencies tells Adweek that the brand flight figure seems conservative. At least 10 brands have left the program at the exec’s agency alone. The same executive also said other clients have been reaching out to make sure they aren’t buying on the network. It’s not anything O’Reilly has done on the air that is of concern, the executive says, it’s just the storyline and everything else around it that’s become a problem.
“It almost makes no sense for anyone to stay in the show at this point,” the executive tells Adweek. “For national brands, this is just the kind of thing that is too much trouble.”
A media buyer at a different agency agrees that the number of advertisers leaving will increase as long as the controversy stays in the headlines, but feels the ad pull probably won’t be permanent. This buyer also says that while clients want to steer clear of O’Reilly right now, they probably won’t pull their ads from other Fox News programming.
In fact, Fox News ad sales head Paul Rittenberg, who is leaving the company at the end of the month, released a statement Tuesday, saying: “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor. At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other FNC programs.”
The brands pulling their ads from the show (which just so happens to be coming off of a record-setting quarter ratings-wise), include carmakers Subaru, BMW, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and Lexus; healthcare brands GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Advil, and Bayer; also Wayfair, Orkin, T. Rowe Price, Allstate, and Esurance.
Mercedes-Benz was the first company to pull its ads from the show, with the company calling the allegations “disturbing given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”
Coldwell Banker made its stance public at around 10:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, tweeting:
Pulling ads from a program is a risky move. “There’s always a risk for an advertiser when it takes a stance like this because they could be alienating viewers that either don’t believe in their stance or they could be alienating people that don’t want their brand to take a stand at all,” Landor’s executive director of strategy Mimi Chakravorti tells Adweek.
But pulling out of this particular program is even riskier. O’Reilly is a cable news icon, a media mogul with perhaps the most loyal audience base of any show on cable television, a base which includes the President of the United States. During an interview with the New York Times today, President Trump claimed he doesn’t think O’Reilly did anything wrong and feels “he shouldn’t have settled” the aforementioned cases.
If President Trump’s stance is any indication, it’s doubtful that O’Reilly’s ratings will take any significant hit as a result of this report.
But while this drama might not hurt 21st Century Fox and Fox News Channel’s ratings or its bottom line today, the increasing number of advertisers leaving the program could prove problematic in the future, particularly if the pressure continues.
“Today, women have more of a voice not just in terms of equal rights in the workplace,” says Chakravorti. “Based on that, I think that if the public and if advertisers continue to push on their beliefs and move away from O’Reilly, then Fox News may also follow suit.
If this news cycle dies fairly quickly, then I think we won’t see much change at Fox News. But if the pressure grows or remains consistent, I think we might,” she said.
It’s safe to say that Fox News is hoping for the former.