After Tucker Carlson Exits Fox News, Advertisers Start to Return to 8 p.m. Slot
Tucker Carlson is out at 8 p.m. on Fox News Channel, and the network hopes that a host of blue-chip advertisers that for years avoided his controversial hour will soon come back in.
Since Carlson’s stunning exit last month, a timeslot that has been shunned by many Madison Avenue stalwarts seems as if it is being embraced. Procter & Gamble, one of the nation’s largest and most influential advertisers, has been running ads in “Fox News Tonight,” the network’s new 8 p.m. program, for female-skewing products like Venus razor blades by Gillette and Secret underarm deodorant. Also showing up in commercial breaks: Novo Nordisk’s trendy medication Ozempic, and Scotts Miracle-Gro.
“We have had over 40 new advertisers come into the hour since we launched the new program, including some of the largest in the country and, really, across all major categories,” says Jeff Collins, executive vice president of ad sales at Fox News Media, in an interview. “We have seen new advertisers come in, and new demand.”
Fox News has reason to generate new money in primetime. Its parent company, Fox Corp., recently agreed to pay a settlement of $787.5 million to ballot-technology firm Dominion Voting Systems, which alleged Fox News personalities had defamed the company by passing along conspiracy theories tied to the 2020 presidential election. The company faces another defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic, another voting technology firm, which is seeking $2.7 billion in damages. “We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025,” Fox has said in a previous statement. “As a report prepared by our financial expert shows, Smartmatic’s damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and on its face intended to chill First Amendment freedoms.”
When asked if Fox hopes to bring back a full complement of national advertisers to 8 p.m., Marianne Gambelli, Fox Corp.’s president of advertising sales, marketing and brand partnerships, replied, “That’s our intent.”
Not too long ago, Carlson’s show was a TV anomaly — a top-rated program that had very little in the way of mainstream ad support. In December of 2018, Carlson sparked backlash after telling viewers he felt immigration was responsible for making the United States “dirtier.” Several advertisers, spurred in part by advocacy groups’ scrutiny of the network, cut ties with the program and moved their ad dollars to other parts of the Fox News schedule. Many others followed suit.
The Murdoch family, Fox’s controlling shareholders, decided to keep Carlson on the air — until their support eroded, to the point that the anchor was ousted in a surprise move last month. Fox has yet to elaborate beyond a statement it issued: “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
The Madison Avenue moves didn’t escape notice. For years, Carlson’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has largely been supported by so-called “direct response” advertisers, which typically pay a lower price in exchange for allowing the network to place their commercials on an as-needed basis. The top advertisers in the show in the past few years, according to audience-measurement firm iSpot.TV, have been Fox News Channel itself, via promos for its programs and its Fox Nation streaming service; MyPillow, the bedding product from conservative entrepreneur Mike Lindell; and Balance of Nature, a maker of nutritional supplements.
Nonetheless, Carlson’s ratings — he delivered more than 3.05 million viewers on average in April before his program was cancelled — have helped buoy the economics of his program. In 2022, according to Vivvix, a tracker of ad spending, advertisers spent around $77.5 million on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” compared with $67.6 million in 2021, representing a jump of approximately 14.7%. In contrast, “Hannity” at 9 p.m. captured nearly $50.4 million in 2022, while “The Ingraham Angle” at 10 p.m. lured about $53.7 million.
Viewership of the hour has slumped since Carlson’s departure. Thursday’s broadcast of “Fox News Tonight,” for example, drew an average of 1.55 million, according to data from Nielsen. The audience for the show was still greater than that for MSNBC, which captured more than 1.44 million, or CNN, which lured an average of 571,000.
What’s bringing Madison Avenue back to 8 p.m. after snubbing it for so long? Advertisers, says Collins, have seen the “Fox News Tonight” concept before. Fox News used it at 7 p.m. after moving Martha MacCallum’s “The Story” to early afternoons in 2021. The network rotated several hosts through the hour, which it intended to fill with opinion programming, over the course of a year before deciding on Jesse Watters as the permanent inhabitant of the time period.
“It takes a lot of audience risk out, because the audience is familiar with these personalities and knows them from other programming,” says Collins. “We know from a program perspective that they are going to resonate with the audience and advertisers have a familiarity with them as well.”
In some cases, the executive says, Fox News will approach clients that run ads in the host’s regular program, and ask if they want to run ads at 8. Lawrence Jones, who filled in at 8 p.m. last week, hosts a weekend show, while Brian Kilmeade, who anchored the show two weeks ago, hosts weekends as well as “Fox & Friends.” Kayleigh McEnany, the former White House press secretary during the Trump administration, is slated to handle 8 p.m. duties this week.