There’s nothing a news outlet hates more than being the news.
For Fox News Channel, it’s been nine months of lurid headlines involving sexual harassment, racial discrimination, abrupt dismissals and stacks of lawsuits. And then there’s the loss in ad revenue and brand equity.
Harris Poll’s annual EquiTrend study, out last week, found Fox News fell 5 points among conservative-leaning viewers—“a statistically significant drop in their brand equity,” said Harris Poll’s vp of brand solutions Joan Sinopoli.
Following the exit last month of Fox News’ top-rated host Bill O’Reilly (Fox and O’Reilly paid $13 million over the years to settle sexual harassment claims against the host, per The New York Times), the latest shoe to drop was the departure of Bill Shine, who’d been promoted to co-president last July in the wake of the ouster of FNC CEO and co-founder Roger Ailes. Fox News executive chairman Rupert Murdoch isn’t filling Shine’s role just yet, but as he searches for a new CEO, he has promoted two longtime staffers: Jay Wallace was named president of news and Suzanne Scott is now president of programming.
Scott, who is the first woman named president of a Fox News division, started as an assistant to FNC co-founder Chet Collier in 1996. She rose through the ranks, at one point executive producing Greta Van Susteren’s show.
“I always enjoyed working with her and thought she did a great job for our show,” said Van Susteren, who resigned from Fox News in September and now anchors for MSNBC. “I hated to see her leave my show to go into management, but I also have enjoyed seeing women move up and succeed.”
Scott and Wallace’s past associations with Ailes make their futures at Fox tenuous at best. The trust of colleagues, continued ratings success and the return of advertisers who bolted amid the O’Reilly scandal will help.
None of that will come easy, though.
Fox News is working hard to rebuild its ad portfolio on a client-by-client basis, a media buyer said, calling it a “complicated process.” It’s also just hired a sales new chief. Marianne Gambelli, who was chief investment officer at Horizon Media, joins Fox News May 22 as president of sales, taking over for Paul Rittenberg who departed last month.
At the end of last week, there was finally some good news from Fox: “We are pleased to report that FNC is back to full commercial load,” said Dom Rossi, vp of Eastern sales at Fox News. “We pride ourselves on our relationships with our clients, and we worked closely and quickly to find scheduling solutions that met their needs.” Returnees to O’Reilly’s old 8 p.m. slot (now hosted by Tucker Carlson) include Jenny Craig, Subaru, Capital One and Pfizer. (Some 60 advertisers had pulled out last month.)
Fox’s saving grace is its ratings. Despite three prime-time shake-ups in the last six months, Fox News viewers are a loyal bunch. In April, the network marked its 10th month as the most-watched cable network. It also came in first in the crucial prime-time hours, ahead of TNT, HGTV, ESPN and all others.
Fox News is also trying to create a better working environment for employees. It hired Kevin Lord as head of human resources earlier this year and has been holding show-by-show meetings where staffers are encouraged to open up.
As Fox News works to cover and produce the news while rebuilding its reputation, it will no doubt continue to generate its own news—a tricky proposition for the network, noted Sinopoli. “They’ve got to replace some star power and they have to stop making the headlines,” she said.