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Fox News ratings unhurt by Dominion lawsuit controversy

The newsroom of the Fox News Channel appears in an undated photographer. (Image courtesy Fox Corporation)

Fox News Channel was the most-watched cable news network in the country last week among the key demographic attractive to traditional television advertisers, according to ratings released by Nielsen.

The channel won over the most adults between the ages of 24 and 54 for the 100th week in a row, a sign that Fox News has been largely able to weather the storm of controversy stemming from a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems.

In total viewership, Fox News drew more than 2.09 million viewers on an average day last week, a loss of just 1,000 viewers compared to the prior week.

The dip in viewership is not unusual: Fox News’ prime challengers — CNN and MSNBC — have experienced similar audience erosion over the last few years as more cable and satellite subscribers drop expensive pay television packages for cheaper, online-only offerings like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Only some of those customers are picking up streaming cable replacement services like Sling TV and YouTube TV, which offer the same news networks.

Still, Fox News is in a good position relative to its peers: The channel ranked fourth last week across all basic cable networks, according to Nielsen, behind the Walt Disney Company’s ESPN and Warner Bros Discovery’s TBS and TNT.

In the key demographic that matters most to advertisers, Fox News attracted an average of 253,000 viewers during prime-time last week and an average of 177,000 viewers during the entire broadcast day. By comparison, MSNBC grabbed an average of 106,000 prime-time viewers and 76,000 total day viewers in the same group; CNN had 105,000 prime-time viewers and 84,000 total day viewers.

Fox News has shied away from covering the defamation lawsuit lobbed by Dominion Voting Systems in early 2021. The lawsuit alleges on-air talent at the channel fueled conspiracy theories about the integrity of Dominion voting machines that were used during the presidential election in 2020.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Fox News Media accused Dominion of taking key evidence “wildly out of context.” The channel provided reporters with documents that included statements from Dominion executives downplaying media coverage about their machines during the election.

“No customer cares about the media — it’s just more words from their perspective,” John Poulos, the chief executive of Dominion, wrote in December 2020, according to a document provided by Fox News.

Another document provided by the channel pointed to comments from an independent auditor that showed cable news coverage was not having a negative impact on Dominion’s ability to attract new business clients or maintain a good relationship with the customers it already had.

Competitors of Fox News have largely focused on materials from the lawsuit that show an apparent contradiction between the real-world beliefs of the channel’s personalities and what they expressed on television. E-mails and text messages between key talent and executives showed many at the channel didn’t believe claims of election fraud being flouted by then-President Donald Trump and others, though they continued to give the matter attention during Fox News programming.

The ratings released by Nielsen this week largely proved that whatever Fox News is staring down with Dominion isn’t having a material effect on the channel’s audience: Despite the legal turbulence, viewers continue to stick with the channel.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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