Why Fox News is launching the 'Fox Nation' streaming service

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. ...

Posted: Nov 27, 2018 2:01 PM
Updated: Nov 27, 2018 2:01 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

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21st Century Fox is launching a new streaming service, Fox Nation, full of conservative politics and entertainment programming, on Tuesday morning.

This is a big test of the Fox News audience and a big extension of the Fox brand. The Murdochs are trying to convince the biggest fans of Fox News, who already pay for cable every month, to pay more for extra programming on the internet.

THE RISK: The streaming service could have technical snafus, could have a hard time attracting subscribers, or could flop for other reasons. It could cannibalize Fox's TV audience and undermine the core business.

THE REWARD: The streaming service could hand Fox a huge new revenue stream and a direct relationship with fans. It could give Fox more control over its future and more leverage in dealings with cable companies. It could be the jumping off point for more Fox-branded products, now that fans have signed up with their credit cards.

What Fox Nation is all about

-- Fox has been encouraging sign-ups for almost a month, using its prime time TV shows and other powerful megaphones.

-- It is not a "news" channel per se. It is all about opinion and entertainment. The programming is resolutely right-wing and pro-Trump.

-- It looks like a slimmed-down version of Netflix or Hulu, with shelves full of on-demand shows. There will be up to 30 hours of fresh programming a week, plus archives of Fox's radio shows.

-- There isn't a daily schedule because there isn't a TV-style linear feed. But there will be some live shows, including "Liberty Files with Judge Napolitano," "UN-PC" with co-hosts Britt McHenry and Tyrus, and "Reality Check with David Webb."

-- There will be push notifications so that users can be alerted when the live shows begin.

-- The live shows will be during the day, so they don't conflict with "Fox & Friends" or prime time.

-- It will be up and running at 7 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

A purer form of the drug

"When Fox News isn't Fox News-y enough for you." That's not the slogan for Fox Nation, but perhaps it could be. As Michael Grynbaum put it in this New York Times story, "Fox Nation may be the id of Fox News." There will be documentaries about Robert Bork and Benghazi. Twice a day segments by Tomi Lahren. Cameos from Sean Hannity and others. Fox says the service is for "superfans" -- a/k/a the viewers most committed to the cause.

I understand the business rationale, but I wonder how the people in charge -- including, or perhaps especially, the Murdochs -- justify actually going through with that business rationale. Throwing fuel on a fire might make good business sense for the Murdochs right now; that doesn't mean they should do it.

I worry that this streaming service is yet another step into a tribalized, fragmented society. The filter bubble is feeling more and more like a filter prison...

The business bet

Fox Nation is not HBO Now or CBS All Access. It is not a new way to watch Fox News -- it is a supplement. Some of Fox's existing talk shows will be repurposed on the platform, yes, but only as audio replays. So this is all about getting the MAGAsphere to pay $5.99 a month for shows without threatening the cable companies.

How many have paid? Fox "is not divulging," Grynbaum reports, but the company is said to be "pleased by the initial response."

Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times says Fox "won't disclose its investment in Fox Nation." But keep in mind, virtually all of the hosts are already on the network's payroll, so the costs are mostly in production and marketing. John Finley is the executive in charge of the startup... Per Battaglio, he "said the service could be financially successful without reaching 1 million subscribers."

"Diamond & Silk" are on board

Oliver Darcy emails: Fox News announced Monday that pro-Trump social media personalities "Diamond & Silk" have agreed to make a weekly video for Fox Nation. It will be "five minutes of commentary, focused on events of the day and casual discourse."

Fox has a long history of allowing "Diamond & Silk" to appear on its programs and use its airwaves to mislead people (see here). This announcement only made the pact official.

Read more of Monday's "Reliable Sources" newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

The bottom line

-- Fox Nation makes sense for several reasons. It creates more shelf space for contributors who might be agitating for a show of their own. Fox execs can use Fox Nation to groom talent and try out future shows for the TV network...

-- The streaming service is not ad-supported, so execs don't have to worry about ad boycott efforts...

-- Nor do they have to worry about ratings... Nielsen won't be measuring anything... Viewership tends to be very low for these kinds of startups, but as long as Fox's superfans keep renewing their subscriptions, that's OK...

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