Lachlan Murdoch Defends Fox News ‘Center-Right’ Focus
(Bloomberg) -- Lachlan Murdoch, facing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum for Fox News’s handling of the election, defended the network’s “center-right” programming and said its decline in viewers since the end of campaign season was expected.
The chief executive officer of Fox Corp. and son of founder Rupert Murdoch also announced a multiyear contract extension for the head of Fox News, Suzanne Scott, a sign of faith in the network’s strategy.
“Fox News, throughout its entire history, has provided the absolute best news and opinion for a market that we believe is firmly center-right,” Murdoch told investors on a conference call Tuesday. “We don’t need to go further right. We don’t believe America is further right, and we’re obviously not going to pivot left.”
The flagship news network for the Murdoch empire has come under fire recently for its role in promoting stories about alleged widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The network was sued by voting-technology provider Smartmatic Corp. last week, a complaint Fox asked the court to dismiss on Monday.
At the same time, the network is under pressure among some viewers for not being conservative enough in its coverage, with some defecting to rivals such as Newsmax and One America News Network.
Viewers also flocked to CNN, a division of AT&T Inc., and Comcast Corp.’s MSNBC during heavy news days following the election, such as the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Fox shares fell 21% last year, and they slipped anew on Tuesday following the company’s quarterly results. While the latest numbers were strong, Fox faces a challenge keeping up the momentum in future quarters, according to Barclays.
All three of the largest cable news networks saw their audiences decline since the election and its aftermath, a typical pattern. And Fox has enjoyed a resurgence recently.
Fox News, Murdoch noted, was the most-watched cable TV network last year as a whole and it has recently begun to return to its dominant position among cable news viewers since Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“This is a cycle that we’ve seen before,” he said. “This is a cycle we expected.”
Fox reported better-than-anticipated earnings and sales for the quarter, owing to what it said was record levels of political advertising and the growth of Tubi, its ad-supported video streaming service.
Sales overall rose 8.2% to $4.09 billion in the period ended Dec. 31, ahead of analysts’ estimates of $3.99 billion. The company had adjusted earnings of 16 cents a share, beating the 3-cent loss expected by Wall Street.
Tubi, which Fox agreed to acquire for $440 million last March, is now “an exciting growth engine for the company and a key strategic platform,” Murdoch said.
Tubi’s revenue will more than double this year to $300 million and is on its way to $1 billion in the near future, he said. The company has been able to attract new advertisers to the online service, which features hit shows from the Fox broadcast network like “The Masked Singer.”
Murdoch said Fox’s free-to-watch service will make it an industry leader. The company’s strategy differs from other media giants, which are pouring money into subscription-based video services, or SVODs, to compete with Netflix Inc.
“We see the SVOD competitive set as the potential to lose very many billions of dollars,” he said. “We see it as very crowded.”
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