Murdochs Set Fox News on a New Path Before Rupert Stepped Back


A major transition at the top of a big company typically spells significant change. Just ask anyone who has worked for CNN while parent company WarnerMedia passed along to AT&T and then the new Warner Bros. Discovery.


But Fox News may — at least for now — remain as is, even though the network’s best-known backer, Rupert Murdoch, has signaled that he will step back from some parts of managing Fox Corp. and News Corp., handing the reins to his son, Lachlan, and becoming the companies’ chairman emeritus. Murdoch has vowed to remain active in matters of content, and people familiar with his management say it’s difficult to envision him not haggling over news cycles and Fox News Channel’s positioning on them.


To be sure, Fox News faces heady industry challenges. Linear TV audiences are shrinking, and with them, the leverage that media companies like Fox can use to seek top advertising prices and affiliate fees. Fox News remains the most-watched news outlet on cable and coverage of the 2024 election should boost some of its lines of revenue, according to Kagan, a market-research firm that is part of S&P Global Intelligence. Advertising sales in 2024 are projected to rise more than 105 to $992.3 million, compared with $896.8 million in 2023. But subscribers are expected to dip — to 64.6 million from 68.6 million — and with that, the money Fox News secures from cable distributors, falling to $1.95 billion from $1.99 billion.


And yet, executives at the network have spent weeks orchestrating a series of programming changes that aim to keep conservative viewers rooted even as smaller, far-right outlets try to woo away its audience. Tucker Carlson was ousted earlier this year in the wake of a significant loss — a $787.5 million settlement to voter-technology firm Dominion Voting Systems after a blistering defamation lawsuit taking issue the way Fox News personnel described the company’s ties to the 2020 presidential election. Now he’s on the social-media platform known as X, trying to generate new headlines. Fox News is significantly bigger than its rivals but that won’t stop players such as Newsmax or Megyn Kelly from trying to take a chomp out of its viewer base. Indeed, Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy on Thursday tried to position his network as a sort of Rupert Murdoch heir. “Newsmax has benefited from his contributions and we will continue his efforts to promote a free press, a cornerstone to a free society,” Ruddy said.


Fox News’ answer to all of this comes in the form of a new programming lineup that tries to give a nod to personalities that often move beyond center-right. Mark Levin, a strident conservative, has gotten new hours on weekends. Jesse Watters, a longtime Fox News personality, was given Carlson’s flagship 8 p.m. spot. And Laura Ingraham was moved earlier in the day, to 7 p.m., where executives hope her often fiery oratory can send viewers into primetime, much like MSNBC does with Joy Reid in the same hour.


There is also a new sensitivity to the way younger audiences interact with media. When Fox News presents the next Republican primary debate, ostensibly on its Fox Business Network, it will also have simulcasts and pre- and post-event coverage available on Fox News Channel, its streaming hub Fox Nation and across its digital and audio properties. The company has developed a portfolio of products in recent years, including a weather network and a streaming option for international audiences.


And while red-state opinion continues to be the lifeblood of the Fox News schedule, the company has tried to broaden itself, with nods to lifestyle programming on Fox Nation and weekend linear. In recent weeks, there has been an emphasis on news with anchor Bret Baier notching interviews with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; former President Donald Trump; and, soon, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Cable-news outlets typically set a table for broader audiences as a new presidential election draws near. Before Fox News mulls changing its programming once again, it’s likely to examine how many viewers and what kinds came to dine. Rupert Murdoch’s vision is still present at Fox News, and probably will be for some time.