With Megyn Kelly leaving Fox News for NBC News, the cable giant is now more dependent than ever on its infamous boys’ club of prime-time commentators—including veterans Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and newcomer Tucker Carlton. That’s bad news for anyone holding out hope that the 20-year-old network was gearing up for a progressive pivot.
In the short term, Kelly’s exit shouldn’t make much difference. Thanks to the election, Fox News is coming off its best year ever. It was the most-watched basic cable network in prime time in 2016, beating out even ESPN. But beneath the surface, the network is facing the same broader challenges affecting the entire industry. Younger viewers are increasingly shifting away from pay-TV subscriptions, and audiences for traditional cable networks are aging. The median age for a Fox News viewer is 66, the New York Times reports. If history is any guide, Fox News’s viewership will dip during this post-election year along with the rest of cable news, and like everyone else, it’s going to be scrambling for ways to attract younger viewers.
Kelly represented that path forward, a way for the network to wean itself from audience of angry white men. Given her past barbs with Donald Trump, she was also well-positioned to steer Fox News through the next four years—the perfect antagonistic foil for the incoming administration. All of this seemed entirely executable following the recent ouster of Roger Ailes, whose exit appeared to signify a truly new direction. But it’s hard to build new things when you’re still using the same old tools.
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