New York Times media reporter David Carr apparently got stuck penning the obligatory Glenn Beck story this month, and it is now racing around Twitter and the Internet like wildfire.
Here is the short version: Glenn Beck’s contract with Fox is up at the end of the year and they may be looking to part ways with him because of his declining ratings.
Let’s start with ratings. They are down. Though not down as much in the month of February as they were in January when they dropped a whopping 39% from the year before (something I partially attributed at the time to the nature of that month’s alarming news cycle and the fact it’s sometimes it’s nice to be told the world is not ending.)
In Feb his ratings were down 26% in total viewers from last February — he bounced back to the number four spot in cable news — which as Carr notes can partially be attributed to the Health Care debate that dominated in 2010. (In fact, while Fox remains unquestionably dominant in cable news, its numbers were down across the board year over year.) But worth nothing they were on par with his ratings in Feb 2009.
However the idea that Fox News is looking to part ways with Beck over his ratings strikes as less than believable. Beck, whose show airs at 5pm, remains so dominant he beats everyone else in cable primetime except three other Fox shows.
Says Carr: “But the erosion is significant enough that Fox News officials are willing to say — anonymously, of course; they don’t want to be identified as criticising the talent — that they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.”
What Carr briefly touches upon, and what I suspect is the root of much of this rumour, is that relations between Beck and Fox have long been rumoured to be rocky. Something having little to do with ratings and much to do with the fact Beck operates outside of the tightly controlled Fox News PR sphere (it’s worth noting he employs his own PR team).
Beck, for lack of a better phrase, runs rogue at Fox, and it’s hard not read this story as some sort opening salvo in what promises to be months of negations between Fox and Beck over a new contract. Meanwhile, the ratings make a more comfortable exit excuse for Fox should Beck opt to depart. (Tweeted Drudge last night: AM TOLD BY TOP: SHOULD BE FRAMED AS ONGOING NYT-WSJFOXNEWSNEWSCORP WAR. CARR A SOLDIER?)
Carr notes the uniqueness of Beck’s position when he points out that Beck “could live without Fox News. Unlike some other cable hosts, Mr. Beck has a huge multiplatform presence: he has sold around four million books, is near the top of talk-radio ratings, has a growing Web site called The Blaze, along with a stage performance that still packs houses. Forbes estimated that his company, Mercury Radio Arts, had more than $30 million in revenue.”
And the truth of the matter is that while Beck’s Fox show provides him a huge platform, money-wise it makes one his smaller streams of revenue.
But here’s the line that inspired a chuckle:
Many on the news side of Fox have wondered whether his chronic outrageousness — he suggested that the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people” — have made it difficult for Fox to hang onto its credibility as a news network.
Emphasis mine, because really? Glenn Beck is what’s making it difficult for Fox News to hang on to its credibility as a news network? I’m not sure he adds to its credibility (though one imagines the legions of fans who send his book recommendations to the top of Amazon might argue with that) but Beck is not a news show. And while his caliphate thing was entirely unglued and alarming to many people, I think (with the exception of Shep Smith) Fox News taken as a whole is pretty much making it hard for Fox News to hang onto whatever news credibility it has.
Also? That ‘deep-seated hatred of white people’ remark is from July of 2009. If Fox was worried about its credibility (or even the fact Beck has lost 300 advertisers….a year ago) one imagines they would have made a move before now.
Here’s the part that Carr does get really right — Beck used to be a lot funnier. This doomsday schtick he’s on of late is entirely tiresome, and appears to have wiped whatever E4 plan he started the year with completely off the board (literally, where his show is concerned!). Again: Sometimes it’s nice to be told the world is not ending! Sometimes, viewers want cupcakes!
Carr, whom I suspect may have only tuned in last week, says Beck is “often alone in the studio with his chalkboards and obscure factoids, a setting that reminds me of an undergrad seminar on macroeconomics with an around-the-bend professor I didn’t particularly enjoy.”
Carr is not a fan of the blackboards, however I often suspect it’s just that ‘professor’ element that is exactly what draws in the viewers: I’ve noted many times Beck’s success (ironically, sort of like Al Jazeera’s, except Beck’s version of news is not actually based in a widely accepted reality) is a strange measure of both how much viewers are hungering for knowledge, and how few places it is to be found.
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