How an Advertiser Boycott Campaign Helped Push Glenn Beck Off the Air
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When we launched our campaign to hold Glenn Beck accountable for his vicious, baseless, and repeated race-baiting in July 2009, it was based on a simple theory: Beck's rhetoric was so egregious, so far over the line of decency, that few advertisers would want to associate their brand with Beck. If we could convince advertisers to abandon Beck's show, and stay away, this would make Beck a financial liability for Fox News Channel, ultimately leading to his show's demise.
The theory proved true: 285,000 people signed our petition to Beck's advertisers, and hundreds of major companies made sure their ads would not appear during his show. Beck could not attract major advertisers for more than a year, so demand for ad space (and hence, the price of ads) on his TV show plummeted, hurting Fox's bottom line. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters explains it well:
The television industry is built around supply and demand. Glenn Beck has supply in the form of roughly 20 minutes of advertising time sold each episode. And it wants to build demand. Usually, healthy ratings drive that demand since advertisers want to reach the masses. But if suddenly hundreds of advertisers raise their hand and announce they'd be happy to spend money with Fox News, but not on Glenn Beck, then the show's demand plummets, but the supply — the 20 minutes of advertising inventory — remains the same.
Boehlert quotes an ad buyer who backs up this analysis, saying: "Ad rates are predicated on supply and demand, not ratings. If the show has low demand and an oversupply of advertiser inventory, the show will not get premium ad pricing no matter how many viewers." In some of our conversations with advertisers during our campaign, we heard that this was exactly what was happening. Representatives from one small company told us that they bought time during Beck's show because it was so inexpensive they couldn't pass it up.
But even as our campaign grew more successful — as the number of dropped advertisers grew from three to a dozen to more than 300 — many media commenters succumbed to the lazy conventional wisdom that our campaign could not generate the financial pressure necessary to dislodge Beck. Some, like CNBC's Jim Cramer, bet that Beck's mighty ratings would entice advertisers to return. He had this to say about the campaign back in 2009:
Unlike his colleagues on sister network MSNBC, Cramer didn't portray Beck as a racist hatemonger and said that eventually all the advertisers forced away from his program would come back.
"So my take is that advertising worked, but it only worked if you're not – I mean look, I think, I used to follow Glenn Beck when I had a radio show," Cramer said. "He's a nice guy, Philadelphia and I've been on his show. You know — I think they all come back in the end."
The goal of the boycott, instigated by Color of Change, was to hurt Beck and Fox News' advertising revenue. However, according to Cramer the campaign was failing and NewsCorp was not struggling in any way from the boycott.
While Cramer's opinion was based in little more than uninformed speculation, others in the media accepted the idea that the campaign would not hurt Fox financially for a far worse reason — simply because Fox News said so. As we attempted to document and estimate the impact of hundreds of advertisers refusing to advertise during Glenn Beck's show, Fox News assured everyone from reporters to NewsCorp shareholders that the boycott was having no impact on the network's bottom line. Of course, Fox refused to open up its books to scrutiny to verify this. And many reporters accepted it without digging deeper. For instance, Mediaite's Steve Krakauer, in a piece entitled "Sorry Haters: Fox News Still Unaffected By Beck's Lost Advertisers," wrote: