Old News: The Impact of the Aging Viewership on Bill O’Reilly and Fox News



When it rains, it pours.

For Fox News and its month of May, the hits just keep on coming.

As was reported Wednesday, Fox News’ viewership is down 27% this month thanks largely to the network’s insistence upon beating the dead horse that is known as Benghazi. In fact, this number was so low that it actually marked the network’s lowest monthly ratings since before 9/11. As disheartening as this is for Fox News at the moment, what might be even more depressing for the network concerns the demographics of their current audience.

Take, for example, the network’s flagship program The O’Reilly Factor. The program for the past month averaged 313,000 nightly viewers. Despite the fact that this was the lowest amount in over twelve years, the program still more than doubled the viewership of both CNN and MSNBC. However, the interesting statistics involve who exactly was watching The O’Reilly Factor. According to the numbers less than fifteen percent of O’Reilly’s audience fell within the key 25-54 demographic, and the average age of O’Reilly audience was 72 years old.

For Fox News, this represents a huge challenge moving forward. They now face the time honored question: Do we want to make money now or in the future? Because as of now, The O’Reilly Factor remains the network’s breadwinner as it has been for well over a decade. Fox News knows it has a faithful audience for the program and it caters the program to that audience. It’s the reason that Bill O’Reilly can say things on his program Thursday like “income inequality doesn’t exist” and not get absolutely laughed off the stage. Because Bill O’Reilly knows his older, White audience actually believes the things he tells them. They are so gullible and set in their ways that when O’Reilly says something absurd like he did tonight, his audience won’t bother to question him.

This strategy works great for the advertising dollars for Fox News. However, a problem arises in that 25-54 demographic where only 15% of O’Reilly’s audience lies. The lower end of this demographic are your millennials and they are the ones who are at an age where they are starting to have families of their own. If only 3 out of every 20 viewers of The O’Reilly Factor are in this age bracket, that means that even less than that are millennials. It is more than likely that the percentage of millennials that watch the program might very well be close to 5% of the entire viewing audience. That 5% will not be enough to help Fox News spread its conservative message to independents as election season approaches.

Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes built Fox News to establish a Conservative mouthpiece for the Republican Party during the presidency of Bill Clinton. It’s no coincidence that the network was launched a month before Clinton was re-elected. Murdoch and Ailes knew that Clinton was turning around the economy from a recession and how, up until that point, had kept the United States out of any major foreign entanglements. When Clinton beat Bob Dole handily to win a second term, Murdoch and Ailes knew they needed the network to help stem the tide of a popular Democratic president, presiding over what would become an efficient and robust economy.

However, since that time, the network has continued to push its conservative agenda on the rest of the country. It has worked wonders for ratings, but it now reaches a breaking point of what to do moving forward. The Fox News audience continues to get older and older. However, is it that audience that tunes in religiously and helps the network keep raking in its advertising dollars. Meanwhile, it is the younger audience that doesn’t tune in as often and yet it is they who represent the next generation. They are the ones who Fox News most needs and yet they are the ones that don’t seem interested in what Fox News has to say.

As America continues to become more and more progressive, Fox News has painted itself into a corner. For nearly twenty years, they have been “fair and balanced” in giving the Republican Party a platform to campaign and to give a voice to their Conservative worldview. They have catered to their audience, but now their audience no longer represents traditional America. People in this country realize things like income inequality exist, and for every time that Bill O’Reilly says it doesn’t, it just makes the average independent voter shake his or her head in disbelief. Views like that may play great for the over 70 crowd, but for the vast majority of educated voters today, that kind of disconnected worldview only serves to illustrate just how out of touch Republicans are with major problems in the country today.

For Fox News, it is a situation that offers no easy solution.

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