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Surge In Newsmax Ratings Shook Fox News, Then Faded

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Surge In Newsmax Ratings Shook Fox News, Then Faded

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Surge In Newsmax Ratings Shook Fox News, Then Faded

Tucker Carlson was worried.

Late on November 7, 2020, Fox News announced that Joe Biden had won the presidential election and Mr. Carlson, one of the network's opinion leaders, worried about the alienation of Fox News viewers.

They could turn to Newsmax, a smaller channel that has taken a hard line, and ask if Donald Trump lost the election, he said. "We're really playing with fire," Carlson wrote in a text message to her producer, according to court documents. "With Trump behind us, an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating for us."

This threat came true, but not for long, as Newsmax's audience stabilized and eventually declined.

Mr. Carlson's post is part of a series of internal Fox News memos that were released as part of a defamation lawsuit the network faces. Voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems alleges in a lawsuit that Fox News falsely claimed its technology rigged the 2020 election. According to Dominion, the network acted out of fear of losing viewers to right-wing channels.

The documents show that Carlson was not alone. Other Fox hosts and executives worried that Newsmax was a growing threat after the election.

Fox denies any wrongdoing, saying these were just newsworthy messages and that Dominion tried to take internal messages out of context. (Fox Corporation , parent of Fox News, and co-owns News Corporation, parent of The Wall Street Journal.)

The initial rating data is troubling. Newsmax has generally had low ratings, but in the fourth quarter of 2020, when the election took place, it averaged 242,000 prime-time viewers, a sixfold increase from the previous quarter, according to Nielsen data. Fox News still had high ratings, about 3.5 million prime-time viewers, but court documents show it took Newsmax's interference seriously.

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On November 12, 2020, Newsmax even crossed one million viewership from 19:00 to 20:00. At the time, Herring Networks Inc.'s Small Right Channel One America News Network ratings. Also grew up.

Newsmax couldn't sustain its success as Fox News made changes to the show to win back viewers and election fraud stories disappeared. In January, DirecTV cut coverage, shutting down Newsmax. Several Republican senators wrote to the satellite broadcaster criticizing its actions. DirecTV said Newsmax is seeking an unreasonable increase in syndication fees.

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Newsmax's audience is down significantly this year, averaging 111,000 prime-time viewers and 93,000 all-day viewers, according to Nielsen. A Newsmax spokeswoman declined to comment.

Court documents show that shortly after the election, the chain responded to concerns about Newsmax's profitability. On November 10, Fox News President Jay Wallace wrote to network CEO Susan Scott about the ratings. “The barrage of news from Newsmax is a little unsettling. It's really an alternate universe when viewed, but you can't ignore it," he wrote, adding that the network is "under martial law," according to court documents.

"They're just beating us," Fox CEO Porter Berry wrote to a colleague. Lauren Patterson, president of Fox Business Network, added: "They must have a strategy for all shows to try to attract and steal our audience."

Newsmax, founded by Chris Ruddy, launched its cable channel in 2014 and is available in about 50 million homes, according to Nielsen. Rudy, a former New York Post and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributor, has been in conservative circles for years and is close to Trump.

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Newsmax has hired former Fox characters over the years, including Greta Van Susteren, Eric Bowling and Rob Schmidt.

Here's what Fox News experts are saying about election fraud allegations

In the long term, Fox executives feared that Newsmax could raise funds to make it a bigger competitor. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News Corp. , the parent company of Fox News, emailed Ms. Scott on Nov. 16, 2020, about a Wall Street Journal article that said Trump allies were looking into Newsmax. .

"Semi. Today's Newsmax article," Murdoch said. “These people should be viewed, albeit with suspicion. He warned against standing up to Trump. "Everything is in danger here," he wrote.

On December 7, Newsmax did the unthinkable. His show Greg Kelly Reports has surpassed Fox News' The Martha McCallum Story among 25-54 year olds, whose reach advertisers pay more for. Miss McCallum's show really captivated the entire audience.

Fox News quickly changed that timeline. In January 2021, it rescheduled The Mrs. McCallum Show to 3:00 pm and moved the Public Opinion Hour to 7:00 pm online. After consistent performances last year, the network awarded Jesse Waters a permanent watch.

Like all major cable news networks, Fox News' ratings have declined since the election. It lost a million primetime viewers in the first quarter of 2021. To date, Fox News averages 2.1 million primetime viewers and 1.4 million a day. Fox is still well ahead of CNN and MSNBC, whose ratings have also fallen since the election.

Several current and former Fox News executives said initial talk of a threat to Newsmax was exaggerated.

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Media consultant and news analyst Andrew Tyndall says Fox News has superior political coverage and the ability to produce better TV shows. Fox News' biggest problem isn't Newsmax, but the decline of its cable TV business and its aging audience.

"Young viewers cut the cord while the old ones die," he said.

Newsmax and OAN, along with Fox News, Dominion and Smartmatic Corp., another polling company, are suing their networks for defamation and voter fraud. Newsmax called the lawsuits an attack on the press. AAO denied the complaint and decided to close the cases.

Fox News denied Smartmatic's allegations and said the network made significant statements about the 2020 election.

Email Joe Flint at Joe.Flint@wsj.com

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