Is Glenn Beck Finished?
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But whether or not that's true, the boycott puts Fox in an untenable position as it continues to gain momentum. Cable news ad buys are based on ratings. Since only O'Reilly and Hannity regularly beat out Beck in viewership, it doesn't make sense that a redistribution of advertising dollars to other parts of the network would keep everyone happy indefinitely (especially once current contracts expire).
Plus, at least one company – UPS Stores – has announced they will pull all of their advertising from Fox for the time being.
Jonathan Morris, a media analyst focusing on cable news says, "It's OK to lose a few [advertisers], and may actually be a good thing from a ratings perspective. But when it goes too far it's bad – and he's lost a lot of advertisers."
Kevin Sandler, a professor of media industries, agrees. "Advertising dollars always move around. And there's plenty of other people they can go to. But Fox has a lot to lose."
One thing Fox might lose is advertisers who actually pay them. As Jim Edwards on BNET notes, "Fox has been reduced to running “house” ads, spots for its partner properties for which it may or may not receive revenue." Advertisers that have stepped in include DirecTV, Honda, and the Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen channel. The Wall Street Journal, which of course, is, of course, a News Corps property, is also running ads on Beck's show.
And as the drain of sponsors results in less and less demand and competition for Beck's time slot, his fees will go down regardless of the ratings he pulls.
But there is much more at stake for Fox. In the past decade the conservative network has carved a profitable niche for itself by appealing to disgruntled right-wingers – an especially successful strategy with a popular Democrat in office. "In today's media environment," says Morris, "catering to extreme audiences is economically beneficial. Fox found that in this day and age, that's a profitable way to market yourself."
But Fox can't risk becoming too extreme. Despite the deep reservoirs of racism that remain in the U.S., flagrant, open racism is not too popular with the mainstream. As Rucker points out, "I don't think [Fox] is comfortable with or ready to deal with being considered the network that race-baits. There are consequences to that. There are a lot of folks that would be very deeply concerned and would really turn off Fox if that's what Fox becomes about."
What can Fox do? Tell Beck to shut up? Encourage him to keep spouting the crazy right-wing fodder that boosts ratings, but just abstain from stirring up racial hatred? Fire him?
Dropping Beck or having him significantly alter his M.O. are both pretty unsavory options for the network. Beck is very, very good at pandering to the right-wing fringe. "Among a lot of right-wing viewers, what Glenn Beck said [about Obama], they believe. He's targeting those people. He knows they're out there. And it's in Fox's interest to stay profitable" says Morris.
And Beck's devoted fans have not stayed quiet. From the start of the Color of Change campaign, there was a concerted effort in right-wing blogs to counter the boycott. On Tuesday, Beck's 912 Project – a weird assembly of right-wingers ostensibly devoted to "American unity" and the Constitution, but most recently linked to town hall violence – asked followers to sign a letter telling Fox to support Beck, and threatening companies that have dropped his program with a counter boycott.
On the 912 counter-petition site, where Beck's supporters (disturbingly) state their case, it's easy to see why Fox has thus far kept quiet. It's also clear that Beck's statements, which he often defends as "mere entertainment", are not taken lightly by his followers.