Tucker Carlson, until recently the host of Fox News’ most popular show, was unceremoniously fired this week.
We don’t know why he was fired, but there is plenty of explanation in the mediaverse — most of it ascribing the firing to a direct order from Rupert Murdoch, annoyed because Carlson’s emails were the smoking gun that cost Rupert $787.5 million plus the even more damaging drop in the stock price.
Clearly, Carlson lied repeatedly on air about the 2020 election results; knowing lied, to protect the network ratings, and of course, the ratings of his own show. It is a bit strange that Rupert would fire Tucker Carlson, because clearly the $20 million that Fox paid Carlson a year (according to Forbes), must have been a tiny fraction of the revenue that Carlson’s show delivered to Fox.
Tucker Carlson Tonight, his vehicle on Fox, was on for an hour every night. Carlson had also just signed a deal to do podcasts for Fox, along with Tucker Carlson Today — neither of which will happen now.
But let’s just stick with Tucker Carlson Tonight. 5 nights a week, for an hour each night. That’s 32 commercial spots each night. Now, if each commercial spot sells for $100,000 per spot (I have no idea what they sold for, but House Hunters on HGTV, so I am told, sells for $100K per spot so let’s go with that one), then each show generated $3.2 million for Fox. Every night. Five nights a week means Carlson generated $16 million a week. 52 weeks a year translates to $832 million in revenue to Fox News per year.
Let’s say I am off by a factor of 50%, (I don’t think so, but let’s say so anyway). Then the show generated $416 million in revenue, less the $20m they were paying Carlson.
Tucker Carlson, Rupert Murdoch was screwing you. The show costs next to nothing to produce. It’s just you in a studio.
OK, so now what to do, at least for Tucker Carlson, career-wise?
Let me say here that I find Tucker Carlson to be absolutely reprehensible. But that aside, what should he do now?
Fox News is in many ways archaic. It is the product of a media technology that is dying. That’s why Rupert was anxious to sign Carlson to Tucker Carlson Today (for the streaming service) and the podcasts. Streaming online is the future.
But the funny thing about live streaming is that you don’t need Fox News and you don’t need Rupert Murdoch. The Internet is an open platform. Anyone can live stream, any time they like, and a no cost. This is the future for media, as David Zaslov, head of Discovery/Warner, fast-moving to online can tell you.
On Fox News, Tucker Carlson averaged about 3.2 million viewers or about 1% of the country. And bear in mind that he was the #1 watched cable news show.
Let’s compare Tucker Carlson to Mr. Beast, who has 129 million subscribers on his YouTube Channel and a net worth of $1 billion. And, frankly, who ever heard of Mr. Beast? Mr. Beast does not have a show on Fox News. Neither does he have a show on NBC or Discovery for that matter.
The television business is pretty straightforward. You put a product on the air to attract viewers, then you sell the viewer’s eyeballs to advertisers who are happy to pay to put their product in front of the audience. In the TV business, the advertisers are the clients, the viewers are the product being sold to the advertisers and the content of the show is the cheese that attracts the viewers.
Tucker Carlton was the cheese.
The reason that Rupert Murdoch was able to make so much money (net worth of $17.5b) was that he was able to position himself as the middleman between the advertisers and the viewers. That’s what he paid the cheese for. He was able to do this because he owned the pipeline that put the cheese into people’s homes — the cable network.
But with the Internet, you don’t need Rupert’s cable channel to get into people’s homes. Mr. Beast does it all day long, and he gets into a lot more homes than Fox News. He does it just by being online.
Online is the future for media, the way television was once the future for a media that was all radio. The way that cable was the future for a TV that was all broadcast over the air.
So wise up Tucker. Forget getting a job with OAN or CNN. You have enough followers already. Do what Mr. Beast does. Advertisers will pay a lot to get their message in front of the no doubt 100 million subscribers you could probably generate.
Those who have been the first to grasp the power of new technologies in the mediaverse have done remarkably well. Radio was new in the 1930s, but Adolf Hitler grabbed hold of it. Hitler may have been selling the Aryan God product but he had a face for, well, radio, (an Aryan God he was not), and a voice to match it. His propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels pushed the development of a ‘people’s radio’ (like Volkswagen was the people’s car) and by 1938, almost everyone in Germany had a radio (up from 7% a decade earlier). And all they heard was Hitler. In 1933 Germany, Hitler was the cheese.
So I am not saying embracing new media technology leads to anything good. And I am pretty sure that The Tucker Carlson Show online will only be destructive to democracy, but in the mediaverse resistance to technology is futile. It is, in fact, inevitable.
As the NRA likes to say (another heinous organization), the only solution to a bad buy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and the only solution to a bad guy with a live-streaming show is a good guy with a live streaming show. Mr. and Mrs. Obama, are you listening?
If you found this interesting, check out my new book: The Rise of the Mediaverse — The Death of Truth.