Blockbuster ratings may give Fox News room to revive after Ailes exit

Thu Jul 21, 2016 4:53am EDT
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By Jessica Toonkel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The imminent departure of founder and Chief Executive Roger Ailes may not come at an ideal time for Fox News Channel, but the momentum of record ratings amid the most sensational U.S. presidential election in decades may give the cable network some breathing room to recover, media buyers and Wall Street analysts said.

However, Ailes' successor faces the twin challenges of retaining Fox News' established on-air stars such as Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly, while making the network attractive to younger viewers, a demographic it has consistently missed.

"You have a few months right now where you are pretty much well assured that you won't have an audience issue, so it is a good time to lock up talent and make sure the course is corrected," said Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group in New York.

Seventy-six-year-old Ailes, who in 20 years built Fox News into a highly profitable ratings juggernaut, is in negotiations over his departure with parent company Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O: Quote), a person briefed on the discussions told Reuters on Tuesday.

Twenty-First Century Fox declined comment.

Earlier this month Ailes was sued by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who claimed he sexually harassed her. Ailes denies the charges. Fox News hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation, which it says is not yet complete.

The scandal has brought unwelcome attention to Fox, but seems unlikely to dent viewer ratings in the middle of an unpredictable presidential campaign pitting outspoken businessman Donald Trump against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who would be the first female president.

Fox News, known for a lineup of politically conservative commentators, is the most-watched channel in basic cable television this year, with an average of 2.2 million prime-time viewers, according to Nielsen data through June. CNN had 1.2 million viewers followed by MSNBC with 917,000.   Continued...

Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, answers questions during a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, California July 24, 2006. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo