Before we get into this week’s OutKick Media Mailbag questions, I wanted to let you know that I’ll have an interview with one of the most influential voices in media posted on the site this week. Look for that. You’ll enjoy it.
“Has cable news and their hosts peaked? The numbers are down big. People are spending more time online. TV isn’t for the younger generation.”
Peaked in terms of TV ratings? Probably. Though just one year ago, all three networks broke their own records.
The news is predicated on storylines. Cable news rises and falls based on the news cycle. There will be another tragedy, another scandal, and another crisis. Those never end or fail to draw viewers. But in terms of a four-year-long storyline to the degree that was President Donald Trump, I doubt we will see that again. Even if Trump were to run and win in 2024, the novelty of his phenomenon will have worn off.
The idea in cable news, however, is to offset expected TV declines with digital growth. MSNBC and Fox News have built direct-to-consumer programs around their biggest stars. MSNBC has now put Morning Joe, Chuck Todd, Nicolle Wallace on Peacock, and Fox News has Tucker Carlson and Dan Bongino on Fox Nation. CNN+ is perhaps Warner Bros. Discovery’s primary focus for 2022.
In addition, all three cable news networks have the opportunity to increase monetization on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
To answer your first question: cable news has likely peaked in terms of consistent, day-to-day linear viewership. That said, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC could temporarily raise their ad rates to offset expected viewership declines while they bolster their digital properties. Morning TV has used this tactic for the past few years.
As for cable news personalities, it’s two-fold. First, despite the decline in raw numbers and reach, individual media talents can make more now than ever before, as long as they can singularly draw an audience.
Social media and podcasting have eliminated the value of the media’s middle class because the increasing number of alternatives has fragmented the industry. A 4 p.m. host doesn’t have the same influence he or she did in 2011. However, at the same time, media fragmentation has bolstered the status of star hosts, who now have greater value than their potential replacements. Viewers have too many other options to tolerate any hosts they don’t like.
For example, Tucker Carlson may not be as well known as Bill O’Reilly (though that’s still up for debate.) However, given the plethora of outside options that now exist, Carlson is more valuable to a network than O’Reilly was when he hosted The O’Reilly Factor.
Mainly, Carlson has leverage O’Reilly didn’t. And I say this as someone who believes, without a doubt, O’Reilly is the most talented cable news host I’ve ever seen. Carlson could start a digital show and make over $10 million in the first year. During O’Reilly’s run at the top, his bosses would’ve laughed at a blueprint that has since made guys like Joe Rogan and Dave Portnoy a fortune.
The question is: how many stars are there? Can Fox, CNN, and MSNBC continue to launch new personalities to stardom?
“Who are the winners and losers in the Maria Taylor-NBC Deal?”
The biggest winners, of course, are the ESPN talents who will eventually replace Maria Taylor on NBA Countdown and College GameDay.
ESPN remains petrified of the narrative — created by social media and based on events taken out of context — that it holds black women back. Thus, ESPN will undoubtedly look to replace Taylor with a black woman in one or both of her former roles.
ESPN replaced Rachel Nichols with Malika Andrews as the lead sideline reporter for the NBA Finals. Perhaps ESPN views Andrews (26) as more skilled than veteran reporters Cassidy Hubbarth (36), Jorge Sedano (43), and Israel Gutierrez (44). It’s subjective and Andrews is uber-talented. But it’s not a stretch to admit Andrews’ skin color was a factor in ESPN’s decision. Skin color plays a role in every decision at ESPN.
ESPN will strongly consider handing NBA Countdown to Andrews.
GameDay is more complicated. There’s already a push on social media to pressure ESPN into going with Andrews on GameDay. ESPN also has several experienced options, including Laura Rutledge and Molly McGrath, though ESPN isn’t in nearly as much of a rush to elevate them as they are Andrews. Therefore, Taylor’s former GameDay role remains a more open competition.
Malika Andrews is and will be the biggest winner of Taylor’s departure.
ESPN also won. Maria Taylor would’ve never been happy at the network. ESPN had given her everything: money, prominent roles, freedom, and exceptions. Unfortunately, Taylor’s colleagues took note of her recent toxic behavior. Had ESPN given into Taylor’s contract demands, the network would’ve set a precedent that attempts to destroy coworkers and extort the company are acceptable in contract negotiations.
There isn’t a clear loser in the situation yet. ESPN is better off, NBC poached a host from its competitor, and Taylor adds the Olympics and Sunday Night Football to her resume.
That said, Taylor’s strategy failed.
Maria Taylor wanted $8 million a year. She then took some bad advice and rejected ESPN’s $5 million year offer. In the end, she had to settle for less.
But most importantly, Taylor had power inside ESPN because the company was afraid of her. Had she just kept her requests to Level 2 Insanity, ESPN would’ve kept and promoted Taylor on-air more than anyone aside from Stephen A. Smith.
Winners and losers take a bit to decide, anyway.
“[W]ith the rumors of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, how valuable of a property is AEW?”
This is a great question—credit to Tony Khan. In just under two years, Khan has turned AEW Wrestling into one of the fastest growing TV properties.
AEW Dynamite, which airs Wednesdays on TNT, has averaged over 1 million viewers in back-to-back weeks. (Dynamite had been preempted to Fridays for a few weeks during the NBA playoffs.) And without head-to-head competition from WWE’s NXT, Dynamite could sustain that average for the months ahead. Furthermore, AEW now leads cable broadcasts on Wednesdays in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
In 2020, WarnerMedia extended its contract with AEW through 2023 at just under $45 million per year. The extension includes an option for an increased rights fee in 2024. If AEW can maintain its growth through 2023, its $45 million a year rights deal should increase substantially in 2024.
AEW could also attract a second partner. While Turner will likely look to keep AEW on its weekly linear television lineup — AEW is moving from TNT to TBS in 2022 — a competing streaming service is likely to make an aggressive offer for AEW’s pay-per-view events.
WWE and UFC struck significant deals to stream their pay-per-views exclusively on Peacock and ESPN+, respectively, in the past three years. While AEW won’t get WWE or UFC money, those two deals set the market for brands like AEW.
WarnerMedia has thus far aired AEW’s pay-per-views on B/R Live, a second-rate service. And while HBO Max can compete with other top services, HBO Max does not yet have a feature to air events live, though it’s coming for the NHL.
ESPN+, Amazon Prime Video, and AppleTV+ could all logically make strong offers to AEW for its pay-per-view library. And depending on the declining gap between linear TV and streaming, it’s plausible that a streaming service could outbid a network for AEW’s weekly product.