Fox News Channel set to make ratings milestone with 10 years atop the Nielsen charts9:16 am - 01/31/2012
Shepard Smith says the station can stay No. 1 as long as it takes care of its product
Amid the day-long coverage of the Florida primary vote Tuesday, there also will be a little cheering in the halls at Fox News Channel.
Not because of the vote, but because in the morning, when Nielsen releases ratings for Sunday, the network will notch its 10th consecutive year as the most-watched cable news network.
“The boss said we’d be able to do this, and it’s happened,” says recently slimmed-down anchor Shepard Smith.
Smith says being on top is great because that means he — and everyone else there — can simply focus on the product.
“The pressure to stay there is greater than anything else,” he says. “If we take care of the product, everything else will take care of itself.”
Fox News launched 15 years ago with a mix of news in daytime and talk at night.
Within five years, the network was topping CNN and has been there ever since.
During 2011, FNC averaged 1.86 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC averaged 775,000 and CNN had 689,000. On a total daily basis, FNC averaged 1.07 million, CNN 479,00 and MSNBC 434,000.
For January in prime time, FNC has averaged 1.98 million, CNN 875,000 and MSNBC 817,000.
FNC is posting 1.11 million on a total-day basis, compared with 454,000 for MSNBC and 449,000 for CNN.
“I think it’s a very impressive milestone,” says Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University. “And I think it’s well deserved. I think what’s often overlooked when people talk about Fox News is they just focus on the politically conservative commentary. But they miss how it’s been as an overall news organization.”
When the network launched and news chairman Roger Ailes said the network would earn ratings, Smith says he had no idea how that would happen.
“No category leader had ever been dethroned in cable,” Smith says. “He had a plan and he said if we stick with it, we’d be okay.”
“Fox realized early on if you want to be a big player in the cable news game, you have to have vivid commentators and be about the news 24/7,” Levinson says.
One key, Levinson says, is that the network’s on-air staff tend to be around for awhile, which helps build loyalty among viewers.
One on-air impression in recent months is that Smith has dropped a lot of weight.
“I’ve lost too much,” he says.
After years of eating cheeseburgers, Snickers bars and having a generally horrible diet, Smith was told by his doctor that he had sky-high cholesterol and high blood pressure. He’s since cut out the junk and plays tennis three times a week. “I’m in the best shape of my life,” he says, adding that his last medical report was great.
As for the ratings shape of the network, Smith says that’s equally good.
“I don’t know why it can’t last,” he says. “It’s lasted 10 years.”