Fox News is betting big on the ‘cancel culture’ wars post-Trump

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Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Greg Gutfeld. Phillip Faraone, Gary Miller/Getty Images
  • Fox News is marketing its two newest shows as counters to “cancel culture.”
  • The focus on political correctness has only grown since Donald Trump left office.
  • Newer data on cross-viewership between Fox News and OAN or Newsmax sheds light on the shift.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the marketing campaigns for the two newest shows in the Fox News lineup, the term “cancel culture” was front and center, making explicit the driving force behind the network’s post-Trump focus.

While cancel culture has split meanings among the American public and 16% say they don’t know what it means, the issue has a higher resonance among conservatives, who are twice as likely to have heard of it, according to a recent Insider poll. Among the many definitions and connotations of cancel culture, Merriam-Webster defines it as “to withdraw one’s support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media.”

Ever since Fox fell under a siege of its own making during the lame duck period of Donald Trump’s presidency, the absence of its superfan – not just from its airwaves, save for a few call-ins, but also Twitter and all other major social media platforms – left a vacuum heading into the Biden administration.

Instead of President Joe Biden filling it, Trump’s social media ban after the Jan. 6 insurrection and preexisting culture wars falling under the umbrella of cancel culture have sustained the network’s most viewed programming.

One of the most prominent examples of Fox leaning heavily into cancel culture was when they spent days on end talking about Dr. Seuss books being “canceled” while mostly holding off from showing the images depicting Black and Asian people with stereotypes, and often omitting that the author’s estate made the move, not politicians or the general public.

After getting crushed in Inauguration Day ratings and experiencing a dip in viewership that fueled speculation around the rise of Newsmax and OAN as potential throne seekers, Fox’s ratings recovered through March.

The end of March and beginning of April saw the debuts of new shows from two of the network’s most viewed personalities, Tucker Carlson and Greg Gutfeld, whose regular shows are among the top five most watched in cable news overall.

Gutfeld is a comedian by training, introduced by Fox News in a recent press release for his new show as a “libertarian political satirist, humorist, magazine editor and blogger, Mr. Gutfeld has been called ‘outrageous and outspoken,’ neither of which he denies.”

-Cable News Watch (@CableNewsWatch) March 31, 2021

Cancel culture is the brand

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Fox News host Greg Gutfeld on tour for his comedy show. Gary Miller/Getty Images

“We will not be silenced or canceled,” Carlson said in a promo for his new streaming show “Tucker Carlson Today.”

A billboard for the network’s new 11 p.m. program “Gutfeld!” in Los Angeles read: “Cancel culture just got canceled!”

Carlson’s new show on the Fox Nation streaming app was heavily advertised on air Monday ahead of his exclusive interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan, who had not appeared on-camera since walking off the set of “Good Morning Britain.”

While Morgan could have appeared on Carlson’s top rated primetime show on regular TV at 8 p.m., the interview was released at 4 p.m. on Monday behind a paywall on the app.

Fox is not alone in pivoting more of its programming and top stars to streaming apps, with MSNBC and CNN both marketing their own streaming experiences for younger viewers. Cable news viewers tend to be older across the board, with the majority of the big three cable news channels’ audience being 65 and older.

What makes Fox distinct in both the cable and streaming landscape is how they use cancel culture as a branding tool.

With Gutfeld’s new show, Fox has built on its marketing of his weekend program as a competitor to the likes of Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel by offering a degree of levity and boundary setting that wouldn’t be found elsewhere.

“People need a reason to laugh,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in a press release for the 11pm program. “Greg’s unique and irreverent talk show has been an incredible success, often beating the late night broadcast competition, despite its Saturday time slot. With one of the most loyal and engaged audiences in cable news, we’re thrilled to bring the show to weekday primetime and further solidify Greg’s place among late night television stars.”

“We’re gonna have more guests and be able to take more risks, so you’re going to see a lot of interesting and unusual people that you don’t normally see on TV,” Gutfeld said on a recent episode of “The Five” while plugging the show.

After the show’s premiere Monday night, “Brian Williams” began trending on Twitter as some viewers who appeared less familiar with Gutfeld’s unconventional style began remarking upon the off-kilter production value of a skit involving the host of MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour.”

-Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) April 6, 2021

Previously, longtime anchor Shannon Bream hosted the 11 p.m. block, which has been packaged as separate from the primetime opinion lineup of Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Gutfeld’s entrance to the late night lineup and Carlson’s billing on the streaming app show which personalities Fox is betting on to keep growing its audience.

Predictions of a mass defection of Fox viewers to OAN and Newsmax ended up getting complicated by the fact that many of the new arrivals to the smaller far-right cable channels still continue to tune into Fox News, according to a Pew Research survey released in late March.

At the margins, the battle is being waged over which viewers Fox can keep from dabbling in alternatives.

With a pair of self-proclaimed free speech fighters like Carlson and Gutfeld, it only makes sense for Fox to take the battle to new fronts in steaming and late night.