Why a Tucker Carlson ‘hoax’-related advertiser boycott won’t work
Welcome to the latest edition of Ad Age TV Brief, our roundup of news from the world of broadcast, cable, streaming and beyond. *Extremely Mr. Roarke Voice* Smiles everyone, smiles!
All Tuckered out
Twenty-four hours after Fox News fixture Tucker Carlson stirred up a hornet’s nest by characterizing the country’s white supremacy scourge as “a hoax,” the host of the network’s 8 p.m. hour informed viewers that he would be “taking several days off.” The sudden vacation, which Carlson announced at the end of Wednesday night’s program—“[I’m] headed to the wilderness to fish with my son”—is a stratagem familiar to Fox News watchers; in the past two years, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have all taken time off from their respective shows after things they’d said or done sent advertisers packing. (In O’Reilly’s case, he never returned from his spontaneous vacation; Carlson set up shop in the “Factor” time slot on April 24, 2017, a mere five days after the previous occupant was let go.)
However you care to interpret this latest disappearing act (in every instance, Fox News has characterized the time off as a “planned vacation”), the familiar call for marketers to pull their advertising from Carlson’s show has sounded. As The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr notes, there’s been no mass exodus from Carlson’s show thus far, although Nestlé has said it will no longer promote its Proactiv brand via that particular 60-minute vehicle.
Questions as to the validity of quizzing Carlson’s sponsors about their media planning aside—in such cases it’s arguably difficult to separate journalism from advocacy—the obsessive chronicling of advertisers who may be jumping ship at the moment is a bit of an empty exercise, given that a reallocation of spend from Carlson’s show to another Fox News program has no material impact on Fox News’ bottom line. In this case, the only individual brand that could actually inflict damage on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” is MyPillow; per iSpot.tv estimates, the direct-response marketer thus far in 2019 has invested $26.7 million in “TCT,” accounting for one-third of the program’s overall sales tally. And, no, MyPillow’s not going anywhere.
Bob the Builder
After five years of sustaining losses in its TV advertising business, Viacom finally turned things around in the third quarter, as domestic ad sales revenue was up 6 percent to $976 million. As we reported Thursday, this marks the first growth in ad revenue for the home of MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central since the third quarter of 2014, and was driven, in part, by gains at Viacom’s advanced advertising unit. While Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish didn’t address the pachyderm in the room—analysts were told at the top of the earnings call that the suits would not answer questions about the impending CBS-Viacom merger—MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson later observed that the combination of these two TV powers “will create the second largest player in U.S. TV advertising, with strong linear reach and a growing digital footprint.”
Put me in, coach
In order to boost interest among younger viewers, ESPN is prepping a special teen-centric simulcast of one of its upcoming Little League World Series games. According to Variety’s Brian Steinberg, one of the two LLWS games set to air on ESPN Wednesday, August 21 will be presented in an alternative “kidscast” format on spinoff net ESPN2. (The teen studio talent were hand-picked by WNBC sportscaster Bruce Beck.)
The bonus feed will “feature two 16-year-olds offering commentary in the broadcast booth and two 15-year-old sideline reporters,” who, as Steinberg notes, “will likely be reporting on the state of the … refreshments stand as much as they will on any action in the dugout.” This marks ESPN’s latest effort to stem the tide of ratings erosion among the apple-cheeked digerati; in June, Bristol launched a trial balloon by streaming a simulcast of Game 2 of the NBA Finals hosted by ESPN+ personality Katie Nolan and YouTube influencer Mike Korzemba.
Ripped from the headlines of ‘Who Cares?’ magazine
Advertisers interested in reaching late-night’s younger, hipper crowd but who would just as soon avoid all the political tumult of this noisy, stupid timeline may want to take a look at David Spade’s new chat show. “Lights Out with David Spade” airs on Comedy Central weekday nights at 11:35 p.m. ET, and as the show’s executive producer told Broadcasting & Cable’s Michael Malone, it’s designed to “provide a half-hour break from the onslaught of politics.” Interested marketers shouldn’t expect a landline of commercial impressions; per Nielsen, “Lights Out” is averaging 267,000 viewers and a 0.1 rating per night, good for just 129,000 adults 18-49 per episode.
Choking on the Peach Pit
Never underestimate the enduring appeal of nostalgia. The series premiere of Fox’s six-part reality/scripted hybrid-slash-U4EA flashback, “BH90210,” on Wednesday averaged 3.86 million viewers and a 1.5 in the dollar demo, which marked the summer’s highest opening rating for a new show. Those are extraordinary numbers for Fox, which has slumped badly through the sultry season. Before the West Beverly, er, kids reunited this week, Fox’s top-preforming summer strip had been “MasterChef” (0.7); moreover, the network has been saddled with the lowest-rated series in the typographically infuriating “What Just Happened??! with Fred Savage” (0.2).
As much as we were hoping that NBCU’s decision to document its upfront business with the Securities Exchange Commission might serve to inspire rivals ABC, Fox and CBS to do likewise, this week’s earnings put that particular enthusiasm to rest. Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Bob Iger on Tuesday didn’t make a peep about ABC and sibling ESPN’s upfront haul, while Fox Corp. Executive Chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch limited his characterization of the summer bazaar to such bromides as “We recently concluded a very successful advertising upfront, very successful” before going on to say that this was “the strongest advertising upfront in 17 years.” Murdoch offered no guidance on CPM hikes or dollar volume.
Speaking on her company’s Thursday afternoon call, CBS Chief Advertising Revenue Officer Jo Ann Ross said her team had enjoyed “the strongest upfront we’ve seen in recent years, most notably in prime time and late-night,” before adding that “CPM increases across the network schedule were substantial.” (To her credit, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Ehrlich tried to get more substantial intel from Ross by observing, “so far you’ve been really good at avoiding any specifics on CPM growth overall and volume,” but the ad sales chief didn’t take the bait.)
Fifty Shades of Grey Gardens
Stay tuned: On Tuesday we’ll have a report on broadcast TV’s Methuselan summer audience, and how all those unmonetized eyeballs offer advertisers a great opportunity to target older consumers on the cheap. Here’s a quick taste of the underlying statistics: The median age of the audience tuning in for the Big Four’s 32 summer entertainment programs is 58.7 years old, and 12 of those shows have a median age of 60 or older.
The only ‘prestige TV’ show you should be watching right now: