NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell is considering turning over CNBC’s primetime lineup to right-wing talk shows, according to the New York Times‘ Ben Smith.
— Ben Smith (@benyt) May 31, 2020
This would be a drastic pivot from CNBC’s current programming, which carries a business focus. Though, ratings suggest Shell’s idea could work well. Conservative talk dominates cable ratings throughout the day and especially in the evening. Fox News has long owned this lane with no viable competition. Tucker Carlson Tonight led all of cable in viewership Thursday, the most recent date recorded, with 4.1 million viewers. Only shows on Carlson’s own network were close. Hannity averaged 4 million, Ingraham Angle drew 3.3 million, and 3.5 million tuned in for The Five. CNBC’s highest-rated program Thursday, Squawk on the Street, drew only 379,000 viewers.
Fox News finished the first quarter of 2020 with its largest audience in network history among total day and primetime viewers. It averaged 3.4 million total primetime viewers, compared to 1.9 million for MSNBC and CNN’s 1.4 million.
It’s been wondered before if an alternative to Fox News can exist. Earlier this year, allies of President Trump explored acquiring right-leaning news channel One America News Network, per the Wall Street Journal.
CNBC would have to get the personalities right to make this work. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are two of the, if not the top two, most powerful media talents. As Smith reports, CNBC previously had discussions with conservative radio host Mark Levin. Levin has since debuted the highly-viewed Life, Liberty & Levin Sunday nights on Fox News. Levin’s talk show averaged 2.2 million on May 17 (was off last week). Like Hannity, the radio background has helped. Another area where conservative talk reigns supreme.
Ben Shapiro should be high on CNBC’s list. Shapiro is the most notable political pundit without a TV show. His eponymous podcast routinely ranks among the most downloaded in the political category. During the 2018 mid-term elections, Shapiro hosted a limited-run series on Fox News.
Even if CNBC’s potential pivot doesn’t draw what Fox News does, it won’t, a few percent swing of viewership in its direction would be a significant win.
* Television ratings via ShowBuzzDaily.