Thursday, January 5, 2017

Looming Issue For Fox News: Will Bill O'Reilly Stay?

The loss of “The Kelly File”—the second-highest-rated cable news program with 2.7 million viewers last year, according to Nielsen—will be a blow but survivable, according to industry observers.

“I don’t think it will hurt them significantly,” former CNN President Jon Klein told The Wall Street Journal. “Fox News has proven over time to be like the New England Patriots. They can lose personnel and keep on chugging.”

The choice of Kelly’s replacement could be a signal about Fox News’s direction—both its approach to Donald Trump’s presidency and its balance between news and opinion in prime-time, observers said. Fox News’s evening programming tends to advocate a conservative viewpoint.

Bill O'Reilly
Kelly ran a news-driven show and was known, among other things, for challenging Mr. Trump. The network could opt for an internal candidate from its bench of anchors or a prominent outsider.

“Who they put in there will reveal a lot. Will they continue to reflect establishment Republicans who were opposed to Trump or will they just get on board?” said Jane Hall, a former Fox News contributor and a professor at American University’s School of Communication. “Having lost her they have an interesting challenge to figure out how independent of Donald Trump do they want their prime-time hosts to be.”

Ms. Kelly’s 9 p.m. show aired after that of Bill O’Reilly, with whom she clashed frequently in the past year, and before Sean Hannity, who is close to Mr. Trump. “In the age of Trump, this puts Hannity clearly in the driver’s seat,” said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant.

The biggest looming issue for Fox News is the fate of Mr. O’Reilly, whose contract to host “The O’Reilly Factor” expires at the end of this year. His program is the most-watched show on Fox News, averaging 3.2 million viewers last year.

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News and co-executive chairman of its parent company, 21st Century Fox, said in an interview last fall that retaining Mr. O’Reilly is a priority. “We’re going to want Bill to stay with us,” Mr. Murdoch said.

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