As Fox News chief Roger Ailes negotiates terms of his exit with 21st Century Fox, his imminent departure threatens to not only shake up conservative politics, for which he has long served as a leading influencer, but cable news as well.
According to numerous published reports, three of Fox News' most marque on-air brands, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, have clauses in their contracts that allow them to exit the leading cable news channel if Ailes departs.
Worse for Fox News, Ailes' pending exit comes amid a resurgence for CNN under former NBC chief Jeff Zucker. Through May, CNN saw its prime-time audience more than double to an average of 435,000 viewers a night in the 25-to-54 demographic for the 2015-16 TV season, according to Nielsen.
And in a measurement of TV's most essential programming brands just released by Solutions Research Group, CNN showed dramatic improvement, rising in the rankings from 22nd to 13th in just one year. Fox News didn't rank in the top 15.
On Monday, the New Yorker, citing sources within 21st Century Fox, said the media company's controlling patriarchs, Rupert Murdoch and sons Lachlan and James, were in agreement that Ailes is to be pushed out. Ailes has recently been the subject of a sexual harrassment scandal, which started with a lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, then widened to include allegations by current network on-air star Megyn Kelly.
Ailes, a former media consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Busch, is Fox News' founding CEO, leading the network from its formation in 1996 to absolute dominance in the cable news race in the 2000s, pushing Turner Networks' CNN — pioneer of the cable news business — to the brink of oblivion.
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