The Washington Post, New York Times, and Trevor Noah won’t like this news. Fox News is expanding Tucker Carlson’s presence with the network, launching two new Fox Nation shows that will feature the primetime host.
Beginning in April, Carlson will debut a new video podcast at least three times a week, as well as a new monthly series, Tucker Carlson Originals, that will focus in-depth on individual topics. Carlson will continue to host Tucker Carlson Tonight weeknights at 8 pm ET.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that all three cable news channels — Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC — needed to put more of an emphasis on digital content. And fast. The cable news networks need to avoid the same mistake ESPN made in letting Barstool pull away with online sports shows and counter the rise of the independent hosts — Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, Steven Crowder, and Pod Save America — by offering their own big-name personalities in that space. All three networks have the names to do it, so new hires are not necessary. The networks just need to utilize the personalities they already have more effectively digitally. While a multi-step process, adding Carlson to Fox Nation will have a lengthy dominion effect on the industry.
Adding Carlson sends a message to other FNC hosts, who perhaps haven’t viewed the service as a place to grow their careers. ESPN made a similar move, adding their top star Stephen A. Smith to ESPN+, indicating to ESPN talents that ESPN+ is the future. If Smith is on it, they should be too.
An increased focus on digital content does not signal the end of linear cable news TV. I remain convinced that, unlike most networks, cable news will survive the cord-cutting/Netflix era. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get hit. With former President Donald Trump out of office, viewers will be more inclined to cherry-pick topics and hosts, rather than keep the news on in the background all day for live updates. Viewership will go down, but if OTT subs and podcast ads go up, revenue won’t need to.
Over the past 12 months, Carlson has generated more buzz than any media personality, save for perhaps Joe Rogan. At this point, it’s rare not to see Carlson’s name in the next-day headlines. SNL has now even led its show with Carlson. When Carlson arrives on Fox Nation, more coverage and subscribers will surely follow.
Fox News Media opted to put Carlson’s upcoming podcast behind an OTT paywall, rather than offer it for free on Apple and Spotify, which is telling. Last month, I explained that due to monetization problems in podcasting, companies are likely to get more aggressive with OTTs. OTTs are better positioned for company-wide monetization than free podcasts, which must rack up listeners so that they can increase ad rates:
Streaming services have additional revenue opportunities, such as monthly subscription fees, that podcasts do not. A recent report says The Blaze now has 450,000 paid subscribers to BlazeTV, paying on average $102 a year. Under that model, there is a far greater incentive to create shows for new personalities than there is to give them a podcast and hope it gets enough downloads to make money. OTT media shows can also produce clips across all social media platforms for more revenue.
Small, independent outlets can run a successful business with one or two podcast hosts, as long as their shows are in the top 1% of podcast downloads. So while Fox could make money from a free-to-consumer podcast built around Carlson, the list of others is limited. Should Carlson move subscriptions for Fox Nation, the upside would far outweigh the revenue he’d bring in with a free podcast.
I expect CNN and MSNBC to soon follow suit and feature their big-name personalities on OTT networks as well. Chuck Todd recently launched a show on Peacock, a platform that should now focus on Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s top draw. It’s unclear how much crossover CNN and HBO Max will have, but CNN will likely calculate that Chris Cuomo should be more involved in digital content.
Americans used to consume news through TV, talk radio, and the newspapers. Moving forward, change those to TV, OTTs, social media, and podcasting.
Most other conversations about Fox News focus on its post-election TV lineup, which includes a new 7 pm opinion hour and, as OutKick first reported, a weekday show hosted by Greg Gutfeld at 11 pm. The aftermath of the moves could take months to sort out, particularly if Brian Kilmeade or Maria Bartiromo is named the permanent host at 7 pm, since both currently host daily morning shows. While the TV lineup is priority No. 1 for the network, bolstering Fox Nation may be next. If other current or potential needle-movers join Tucker Carlson into the OTT space, voters may be as reliant on services like Fox Nation and Peacock as they will be on linear TV during the next few election cycles.