FNC’s Jay Wallace: “People Tuned in to Us for the First Time and They Liked What They Saw”

By SteveK 

Tuesday at 11pmET was the culmination of almost two years of Election 2008 coverage, and now the news networks move on to covering the advent of an Obama administration.

In an interview with TVNewser, FNC VP of news editorial Jay Wallace reflects on election night: “I thought it was a great success. We were all very happy. We launched two brand new HD studios and HD control rooms to complement them. We used election day as the finish line for a lot of projects we wanted to get done for the past year, year-and-a-half.”

Wallace says FNC plans to transition their prime time shows into the new HD studios “by the end of the year.”

In addition to the studios, FNC rolled out one of its newest toys — the Launch Pad. During the night, everyone from Megyn Kelly, to Brit Hume to Karl Rove used the set-up. “It was something that, as we got in there and started playing with, we kept thinking of new people who could use it,” said Wallace. “It kind of became the water-cooler of that studio.”

And the action at News Corp. HQ was not just happening at Fox News. Wallace describes the night as being, “on a scale we had not done before.” Five separate “channels” originated from the building — Fox News, Fox Biz, FOX broadcast, Fox News Radio and The Strategy Room on Foxnews.com.

But the story-behind-the-story is always how the ratings look the next day, and for FNC, it was their best prime time ever in younger viewers. Wallace says the record night proved many wrong.

“People started counting us out and writing our obituary around New Hampshire and Iowa,” says Wallace. “People were saying, ‘How is Fox going to compete with all this focus on the Democrats,’ especially with the whole debate thing that came up where MoveOn and John Edwards were refusing do anything with us and isolate us, and a lot of people said this was the end of us and our ratings dominance.”

Instead FNC saw some of its highest ratings ever this campaign cycle. The most-watched program ever was the VP debate, and the network dominated at the RNC. And for the last 10 weeks Fox News has finished in the top three channels on all of cable.

While CNN won election night, FNC retained a higher percentage the following night (CNN still won in the prime time demo on Wednesday). FNC retained 41% of its Total Viewers and 29% of demo viewers from Tuesday to Wednesday. That compares to 22% and 19% for CNN and 38% and 36% for MSNBC.

“One of the great things about Fox News Channel is that any time there’s a key story that’s out there, and they usually come every couple years, we always tend to retain more eyeballs than anyone else,” said Wallace.

Wallace says the doubts about whether FNC could continue similar ratings success “lit a fire under a lot of us.”

“A lot of people here looked at it as a wake-up call and people clawed in even more,” he said. “We used it as a jump start to redo our studios, and to start thinking about The Strategy Room.”

Wallace is pleased with the feedback on The Strategy Room. “At first we were wondering if we’d have to chase down talent to do it, but people loved it. People were asking to go on.” Wallace says the network is looking at ways to keep the Web-only show going.

The live player, which includes The Strategy Room feed, had 600,000 streams on Election Day and 1.3 million views. Foxnews.com had a total of 81.6 million page views.

Wallace credits FNC founder and chairman Roger Ailes with putting the network in a position to succeed. “Mr. Ailes always had a great eye for talent and we produce around that talent,” he said. “Viewers will start going away a bit from all the channels but we’re pretty confident that people tuned in to us for the first time and they liked what they saw and that’s going to be the pattern.”

One of the new pieces of talent brought on by Ailes is Glenn Beck. SVP of development Joel Cheatwood, who launched Beck’s Headline News program says: “We’re excited to have Glenn on board. We think he’s an outstanding talent. I was pleased to find him while I was at CNN, but quite frankly he’s a perfect match for Fox News.”