Another great week of questions for the OutKick Media Mailbag. Thanks to all the readers who sent in.
Here we go:
“What did you think of the way sports media people handled the election?”
Before I answer this, I want to reiterate my position on sports media talents discussing politics:
I have zero issues with it. My problem is that networks like ESPN allow only the left to express their views. Or at least, the few right-leaning talents are fearful of expressing due to past network decisions. There is also a business aspect to it. If a sports network is going to talk about politics, it must know the ramifications. High Noon, SC6, and The Right Time were the most politically aggressive sports shows. All exclusively provided a far-left perspective. All badly failed.
To your question:
Most of sports media was, obviously, fond of Joe Biden’s projected win. If Trump had won, Elle Duncan, Max Kellerman, Bomani Jones, Sarah Spain, and Pablo Torre would’ve melted down. Possibly on-air.
On a positive note, three radio hosts handled the situation nearly ideal: Colin Cowherd, Mike Greenberg, and Adam Schein.
Cowherd acknowledged the election but said nothing to alienate either side. Ignoring the biggest day in many viewers’ lives would’ve been inauthentic. By bringing it up without taking a side or giving a take, Cowherd was the guy paying attention to election results but looking to talk sports instead.
Mike Greenberg’s approach was similar. Greenberg admitted the challenges of sports-talk on the day of and after the election, with high anxiety spread nationwide. He noted days like those are why sports talk is important. Fans needed an escape, to focus everything on something that doesn’t mean anything.
Finally, Adam Schein did get into the election but swiftly turned the segment into a positive. Schein praised CNN’s John King but also credited Fox News and MSNBC. He watched every network. Schein was just the sports fan trying to get the best information and listening to all sides. I have to admit, when he began his segment, I thought, “Uh oh, he is about to turn off some listeners.” Props to Schein for handling the election as well as anyone in the industry.
I can confidently predict the candidate every sports media personality who touched on the election voted for, except Adam Schein. I have no idea if he voted for Trump, Biden, Jo Jorgensen, or wrote in Patrick Mahomes.
“Huge week for Newsmax. Even if they can never catch FOX News, can they at least take some viewers?”
By “huge week,” I assume you are talking about the social media buzz. Newsmax was certainly in the online conversation, beginning on election night after Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden. While Newsmax will take it —the long-term ramifications are minimal.
Let’s slow down.
Online frustration rarely translates into action. I do not see a scenario where a noticeable number of routine Fox News viewers leave because of election night or Neil Cavuto. It’s likely that the viewers who claim the network isn’t conservative anymore didn’t previously watch the personalities present on election night.
Fox News’ election coverage — save for updates from Tucker Carlson — featured its news division. Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Martha MacCallum, and the decision-desk weren’t there to tell viewers Trump’s chances were greater than they were or to ignore their projection models to avoid angering viewers. Even Fox News’ critic Brian Stelter admitted as much.
The network separates its news division from opinionists. This was apparent the very next night in primetime. Since election night primetime hosts Carlson and Hannity have provided a different viewpoint than the news division. Hannity took issue with Arizona’s call. Carlson seemed to disapprove of Cavuto cutting Kayleigh McEnany off.
I don’t see what has changed. It has always been this way, by design.
All the social media anger has led Hannity to draw over 5 million viewers on Tuesday and Carlson and Ingraham to draw above their averages. What is the problem?
Are there going to be some viewers so mad at the call and coverage that they will switch to Newsmax or OANN? Maybe, but if so, it’s a small number, which isn’t going to change the landscape of the industry.
There are WWE viewers who prefer Impact Wrestling. There are streamers who like Crackle more than Netflix. When more options in an industry emerge, small niches form that are wins for alternatives but not losses for industry leaders.
Newsmax had its most publicized week since launch, and per Nielsen data, from November 2 to November 6, averaged 176,000 in total day viewership. That is less than niche business channels Fox Business (251,000) and CNBC (189,000). In October, Fox News averaged 2.3 million; CNN and MSNBC drew 1.4 million and 1.5 million, respectively.
Newsmax can attract a passionate base, and branding itself as “the conservative Fox News,” as it’s doing, might be a good marketing strategy. Bogus reports that Fox News suspended Judge Jeanine Pirro may help as well. Perhaps, something is there. But the apocalypse is not coming for Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
Poaching established star talents is the only route a challenger has to emerging as a bother to the top. FS1 hired away Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless, two of ESPN’s biggest draws, and were able to take away some of ESPN’s viewers during the two hosts’ time slots. While FS1 isn’t catching ESPN, Bayless and Cowherd have had an impact on ESPN viewership.
If President Donald Trump ultimately starts his own cable news network, which he may be considering, he could lead a similar charge. Hypothetically, signing Sean Hannity away from Fox News and placing him directly up against his replacement at 9 p.m. could work. It wouldn’t win head-to-head, but the potential network featuring Hannity could be a ratings disruptor.
That said, digital content, not other TV channels, is the strongest alternative to cable news. In news media, the biggest draws are not at Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC. Ben Shapiro is with his own company, the Daily Wire. Dan Bongino’s podcast is independent. Steven Crowder has 5 million YouTube followers, and Crooked’s Pod Save America tops all liberal digital shows.
All three cable news channels should prioritize bolstering and creating new podcasts and free digital shows to avoid the mistake ESPN made by letting Barstool and The Ringer, two outsiders, pull away in sports podcasting
But I’m not close to buying the concern for any of the big three cable channels. As always, online noise is close to meaningless. It’s mostly non-TV viewers complaining about TV channels they follow on Twitter but don’t watch.
Who will end 2020 as the biggest winner in media?
Joe Rogan. Everyone in media is chasing three things, rank them as you prefer: money, autonomy, and audience.