Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham Boycotts Have Cost Their Fox News Shows Millions, Data Shows (Exclusive)

Fox News says it has made up the money elsewhere

Last Updated: February 5, 2019 @ 3:41 PM

Laura Ingraham’s remarks about Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg and Tucker Carlson’s comments on immigration have come at a heavy cost for their Fox News shows, which have lost millions in ad revenue, according to new data provided to TheWrap.

According to an analysis for TheWrap by advertising data firm Standard Media Index, Fox News’ 10 p.m. slot, hosted by Ingraham, was down at least $16 million in ad revenue in 2018. Carlson’s show, which airs at 8 p.m., has lost another $2.2 million thanks to an ad boycott that began in December after he said mass immigration makes the U.S. “poorer, and dirtier, and more divided.”

That’s a total loss of more than $18 million — though not all of the loss can be blamed directly on the boycotts, for reasons we’ll detail below. The boycotts — fueled by liberal activists — haven’t led to a major financial hit for Fox News so far. The company earned $805 million in ad revenue in 2018, according to Standard Media Index, which uses media companies’ invoices to calculate revenues.

The ad losses have forced  both “The Ingraham Angle” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to fill their commercial breaks with unpaid station promos. On Monday evening, Sun Basket Meals became the latest sponsor to pull its ads from the Carlson’s show.

Fox News disputed that it has lost any revenue from the boycotts and said that some advertisers are returning after previously pulling out as sponsors.

“Advertisers have started to return and this period is not representative of the status quo in commercial loads for the industry as virtually every network runs a lighter commercial load during the first two weeks of the year,” Marianne Gambelli, Fox News president of ad sales, told TheWrap in a statement. “No revenue was lost as inventory has been shifted to other dayparts and we are on track to deliver a record year in ad sales.”

While Carlson’s numbers are only for recent weeks, since he made his remarks in mid-December, the Ingraham numbers aren’t just for the “first two weeks of the year” — her troubles began in March 2018.

Here are breakdowns for both shows, based on research conducted by Standard Media Index at the request of TheWrap.

THE INGRAHAM ANGLE

On March 28, 2018, Laura Ingraham mocked Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor turned gun-control activist, saying in a tweet that he “whines about” being rejected by several colleges. Hogg (who eventually got into Harvard) called for his followers to boycott Ingraham’s advertisers, and at least 27 of them dropped her show.

SMI’s numbers show that:

-In April 2018, her show’s ad revenue was down $3.2 million from the ad revenue for the 10 p.m. hour in April 2017, when Sean Hannity occupied the timeslot — a 56 percent drop.

-In May 2018, ad revenue was down $2.2 million from “Hannity” in May 2017 — a 34 percent drop.

-In June 2018, ad revenue was down $875,000, or a 19 percent drop from June 2017.

In late June 2018, Hogg renewed his call for a boycott after Ingraham compared child-detention facilities for refugees along the U.S. border to “summer camps.” Revenues for  the 10 p.m. hour took another big dive in July 2019, dropping $1.7 million, or about 47 percent, from July 2017, according to SMI’s numbers.

While the show did slightly better in the fall, “The Ingraham Angle” has seen double-digit losses compared to the previous year for every month since the boycott began in March.

Ingraham replaced Hannity in Fox News’ 10 p.m. hour in October 2017, and Hannity moved to the more prominent 9 p.m. hour.

It’s possible some of the drop-off is attributable to Ingraham being less of a draw than Hannity, one of Fox News‘ most bankable stars. But that doesn’t explain the entire drop-off.

Ingraham premiered on Oct. 30, 2017, which means we have an apples-to-apples (or rather, Ingraham-to-Ingraham) comparison between the last two months of 2017 and the last two months of 2018.

She was down $2.2 million from November 2017 to November 2018 — a 38 percent drop — and down $1.75 million from December 2017 to December 2018 — a 33 percent drop.

Here’s a chart:

TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT

On Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, Carlson opined about “an endless chain of migrant caravans” making “our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided.” On the episode in which he made those remarks, his show pulled in an impressive $493,000 in ad revenue, according to SMI.

But the effects were almost immediate. By the following Tuesday, Carlson’s ad revenue had plummeted to $92,000, according to SMI. Revenues have not completely bounced back: They have ranged between $79,000 and $236,000 a night for the month of December.

The total impact: “Tucker Carlson Tonight” earned $4.5 million in ad revenue in December 2018, down from $6.7 million in December 2017.

Here’s another chart:

COMMERCIAL BREAKS

How has Fox News filled all the advertising slots on Carlson and Ingraham’s shows? With self-promotion. A separate analysis from SMI — by data company Samba TV — shows the extent to which Fox News has advertised Fox News during Carlson and Ingraham’s shows.

Ingraham’s show featured 143 advertisers in the two weeks before advertisers began boycotting her show. The number dropped to 86 advertisers in the two weeks following the boycott and has not bounced back since. In the first two weeks of 2019 —  nearly 10 months after the boycott began — “The Ingraham Angle” had a total of 98 advertisers, the data shows — a 31 percent decline.

During the two weeks before her boycott, “The Ingraham Angle” aired a total of 24 station promos, Samba’s analysis shows. That number nearly doubled during the two weeks after boycott — with 44 station promos.  In the first two weeks of 2019, Ingraham aired 30 Fox News promos.

During the two weeks before the boycott, Carlson’s show aired 625 total commercial spots. In the two weeks after, that number dropped 18.6 percent, to 509 commercials, according to Samba. During the first two weeks of January, the show featured 361 commercial spots, nearly half as many as it did before the boycott began.

Carlson, who aired 34 station promos in the two weeks before the boycott, had 91 station promos in the two weeks following the boycott. In the first two weeks of 2019, the show aired a total of 78 Fox News promos.

MEDIA MATTERS

Media Matters for America fueled calls for customers to boycott companies that advertise on Carlson and Ingraham’s shows. Its website urges visitors, “Tell advertisers to stop sponsoring Fox News.”

MMFA president Angelo Carusone said that he believed SMI’s calculations of the Carlson and Ingraham ad losses were “extraordinarily conservative.”

“I think they are significantly more devastating than that,” Carusone told TheWrap. “What it doesn’t capture is all the lost business that they would have gotten and what happens to the ad rates going forward.”

Fox News, Carusone said, may be in for a rude awakening in May, when broadcasters gather in New York to preview their programming for the upcoming TV season.

“To me the questions is not so much, ‘What is happening to the prices now?’ But come May, what will happen?” Carusone said. “They’re heading head-first into a buzzsaw.”

A COMEBACK?

Advertiser boycotts such as the ones against Carlson and Ingraham might seem likely to fizzle as anger over incendiary comments starts to dissipate and people move on to the next story.

Ingraham and Carlson have both enjoyed strong ratings despite the sponsor boycotts — but their advertisers have been slow to return.

“Things could be better for Fox News and their advertisers,” Brad Adgate, a former advertising executive and media analyst, told TheWrap. “The revenue for two of their three weeknight primetime shows is down significantly and there is still no turnaround.”

It’s unclear just how much money the network actually lost over the boycotts, as most ad time is purchased well in advance. Fox News also makes a bulk of its profits through licensing fees from cable-system operators.

But Adgate questioned the network’s assertion that it did not lose any money.

“If you’re moving an advertiser from primetime to a lower rated daypart, such as daytime programming, you’re going to need more commercials to make up for the audience guarantee,” he said. “They’re losing money because suddenly they can’t sell the daytime show because they have all these units from primetime, and they can’t sell the inventory in primetime because advertisers don’t want to be on those shows.”

Adgate said the boycotts constituted a “yellow alert, not a red alert,” at least for now.

While SMI said Fox News earned more than $805 million in ad revenue in 2018, research firm SNL Kagan offers a higher number: It estimates Fox News generated $1.02 billion in ad revenue and $1.6 billion in gross profits in 2018, a record year for the network.

“It’s not going to be a big blow for them,” a media buyer at a large agency told TheWrap. The individual asked not to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “From a revenue standpoint, it’s really a drop in the bucket for these guys.”

WILL THEY KEEP THEIR JOBS?

The fact that Carlson and Ingraham remain on the air is the most powerful illustration of the company’s commitment to them. 

It’s not great,” Adgate said. “But the fact that advertisers haven’t come back in nine months and they haven’t been fired clearly shows Fox News can deal with that.”

Fox News has repeatedly stood by Ingraham and Carlson, saying it would not allow their voices to be “censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of Moveon.org, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants.”

One argument for keeping them around: ratings.

Viewership in “The Ingraham Angle” actually improved after the boycott, rising in both overall viewers and in the advertiser-coveted 25-54 year-old demographic. Just six weeks after the boycott began, Ingraham netted an average of 2.656 million viewers nightly, with roughly 553,000 in the key demo, up from 2.284 million total and 471,000 demo viewers in the six weeks before the boycott began. Her ratings were slightly down by the end of the year, with 2.518 million total viewers and 467,000 in the demo for the fourth quarter of 2018.

Carlson, on the other hand, has dominated the 8 p.m. hour across the board, drawing 2.822 million total viewers and 528,000 for the coveted 25-54 year-old demo for the fourth quarter of 2018.

January ratings held strong for both shows, with Carlson drawing 2.8 million total viewers, and 509,000 from the news demo. Ingraham came in second in total viewers behind MSNBC and third in the coveted 25-54 demo behind both MSNBC and CNN, scoring 2.26 million total viewers and 415,000 from the demo.

Tony Maglio contributed to this report.

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