Trump's attacks on CNN helped their revenues far more than his praise helped Fox News, new figures suggest

Exclusive: Analysts say president's favourite channel Fox News suffered a 2 per cent year-on-year drop in third quarter advertising revenue, while CNN was up 9 per cent despite being repeatedly branded 'fake news'

Adam Lusher
Tuesday 28 November 2017 19:31
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The President’s attacks on CNN were said to be effectively 'advertising CNN to people who don't like Trump'
The President’s attacks on CNN were said to be effectively 'advertising CNN to people who don't like Trump'

Donald Trump’s favourite channel Fox News has experienced a year-on-year drop in advertising revenue, while CNN and The New York Times continue to grow despite the President attacking them as “fake news” and “failing”.

Despite the President constantly tweeting his love of Fox News, the right-wing, unashamedly pro-Trump network suffered a 2 per cent drop in advertising revenue for the third quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year, analysts Standard Media Index (SMI) have revealed.

By contrast, CNN – repeatedly branded “fake news” by Mr Trump – saw its third quarter ad revenues grow by 9 per cent year-on-year.

CNN advert attacks Trump

And the day after Mr Trump told his 43.5m Twitter followers that MSNBC had “terrible ratings”, SMI’s National TV Index report showed the network’s third quarter ad revenues had grown year-on-year by an impressive 22 per cent.

Meanwhile The New York Times, the newspaper Mr Trump calls “failing” and “enemy of the people”, has announced it is gaining 100,000 subscribers a quarter, up from the pre-election growth rate of 23,000-33,000 new subscribers a quarter.

The newspaper’s chief executive, Mark Thompson, told Marketing Week that subscriptions were “building very nicely” on the back of Mr Trump’s outbursts.

UK media commentator Alice Enders, head of research at Enders Analysis, told The Independent: “These figures suggest the so-called ‘Trump bump’ is helping the media he attacks more than Fox News.”

She explained that most media – whether leaning to the left or right – had grown thanks to the massive appetite for news generated by the 2016 election and Mr Trump’s hectic, drama-filled presidency.

But Ms Enders said the Fox figures – the first year-on-year decrease in one of the big three US cable news networks since the 2016 election – might mean that the media outlets Mr Trump attacks are the ones benefiting the most.

One potential reason for this, said Ms Enders, was that in launching constant attacks on the “fake news” media, “Mr Trump is also giving an awful lot of free publicity to CNN. He’s effectively advertising CNN to people who don’t like Trump – and let’s not forget his approval ratings are incredibly low and have been declining. “In turn, the appeal of these news channels to advertisers is driven first and foremost by [the size of] their audiences.”

Ms Enders added that the subscription growth of The New York Times suggested Mr Trump’s attacks were providing a similar boost for the newspaper.

“Part of that growth,” said Ms Enders, “is people saying, ‘Donald Trump hates ‘The New York Times’; therefore I like ‘The New York Times’.”

Ben Fenton, the former chief media correspondent of the Financial Times who runs a media consultancy at global communications firm Edelman, added: “There is a sense in the US that Trump’s support is retreating to a very hard core, which would be supported by those statistics.”

Mr Fenton said a single year-on-year fall did not necessarily signify a general trend towards an overall decline in Fox News advertising revenue, and both commentators said that the comparison between the third quarters of 2017 and 2016 would be a particularly tough one for the network.

Ms Enders said this was because it was a comparison between 2017 and what was likely to have been a boom period for Fox News, which probably drew in more political advertising than its less overtly partisan rivals during the 2016 election.

She said: “It is very possible that politically-motivated advertising as the election campaign intensified would have been much more attracted to Fox News than CNN, which is actually not viewed as a Democrat mouthpiece.”

It remains to be seen whether Mr Trump will redouble his support for Fox News in the light of the new statistics. It is also not entirely clear how he could be more supportive of the network.

Mr Trump has already been called the “First Fan” of Fox News, and commentators have repeatedly raised fears that the President goes as far as taking his policy lines directly from what he sees on the network.

In January, for example, he tweeted that Chelsea Manning was an “ungrateful traitor” just 16 minutes after Fox & Friends called the former soldier an “ungrateful traitor”.

When The New York Times said that this kind of influence made Fox & Friends the “most powerful TV show in America”, Mr Trump’s response was to tweet, without any apparent irony: “Wow, the Failing @nytimes said [it] about @foxandfriends ‘....the most powerful T.V. show in America.’”

Throughout this year, though, Fox News has been embroiled in a series of controversies that have seen advertisers desert the network.

The first advertiser exodus came in April when Fox News host Bill O’Reilly faced claims he and the channel had paid $13m (£9.72m) in settlements, in response to allegations of sexual harassment.

The host denied the allegations but by the time he was fired, more than 60 advertisers had reportedly pulled out of his show The O’Reilly Factor, then the most popular programme on Fox News.

In May at least five firms were said to have pulled their adverts from the Sean Hannity Show after the host repeated a debunked conspiracy theory that Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee worker, was murdered because of his links to WikiLeaks. Police in fact suspect that Mr Rich was shot dead in a botched robbery.

Fox News is still thought to command the highest advertising rates for programmes hosted by its stars compared to the other networks. SMI figures suggest that immediately after succeeding the sacked Mr O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson averaged $14,100 per 30-second ad slot for his Fox News show, compared to $4,500 for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

But the bad news may not be over for Fox News.

This month there have been reports of companies pulling adverts from the Sean Hannity Show after he questioned the motives of the four women who accused Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of propositioning them when they were teenagers.

The withdrawal of advertising in May and November is thought to have been the result of lobbying by the left-leaning advocacy group Media Matters for America, which shows no sign of lessening its scrutiny of Fox News.

Despite SMI statistics being cited in numerous news reports, a Fox News spokesperson criticised the source of the new figures by claiming: “SMI is not a published source nor is it recognised by the industry.”

The spokesperson added that as of September this year, Fox News had spent 63 consecutive quarters as the most-watched cable news network with the highest total of viewers.

Suggesting Media Matters were being unfair in their campaign against Hannity, the Fox News spokesperson claimed: “This intimidation effort is nothing more than political opportunism.

“Sean Hannity hosts the number one program in cable news because millions of Americans make the decision to join him every night, and the audience relationship is stronger than ever.”

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