Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch defended the company’s financial powerhouse, the Fox News channel, telling investors the network would go from “strength to strength” despite a pullback in ratings after the US presidential election cycle.
“We fully expect that news audiences will normalise and Fox News will continue to dominate,” he said on Tuesday while announcing that the cable channel’s chief, Suzanne Scott, would stay on in a “multiyear” contract extension.
Observers have questioned how the controlling Murdoch family would position Fox News during a Biden presidency, after some Donald Trump loyalists railed against the network after the November election when it called the vote in favour of Joe Biden even as Trump denied the results.
This led to a splintering in conservative audiences, as some followers of the former president flocked to smaller niche broadcasters such as Newsmax.
However Murdoch indicated that Fox News will not pivot, stating: “We will stick where we are and we think that is exactly right and is the best thing for the business.”
“We believe where we are targeted, to the centre-right, is exactly where we should be targeted. We don’t need to go further right. We don’t believe America is further right,” he said. “And we are obviously not going to pivot left.”
Fox News, alongside other US news companies, is navigating a new political era after the chaotic Trump presidency fuelled a captivating news cycle, powering record television ratings in recent years.
Murdoch’s comments came as Fox News is embroiled in a legal battle over its coverage of Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud.
Smartmatic, a voting machine company accused by Trump supporters of having helped rig last year’s US election, last week sued Fox News, several of its high-profile anchors and two of the former president’s lawyers for defamation.
Fox late on Monday filed a motion to dismiss the $2.7bn lawsuit, arguing that the network’s coverage was protected by the First Amendment.
“When a sitting president and his surrogates bring lawsuits challenging the results of an election, the public has a right to know the substance of their claims and what evidence backs them up,” Fox said in its motion. “If those surrogates fabricated evidence . . . then a defamation action may lie against them, but not against the media that covered their allegations and allowed them to try to substantiate them.”
Last month Murdoch’s brother James criticised the US media for the “toxic politics” threatening American democracy in a stinging rebuke of the country’s news industry. He did not directly mention Fox News, his father or his brother. The company, which has long stressed the divide between its opinion programming and news coverage, has not responded to his comments.
Since Rupert Murdoch agreed to sell his treasured television and film studios to Disney in 2017, the remaining Fox company has become much slimmer. The $20bn group skews heavily towards live news and sports, two genres that have been less vulnerable to disruption from streaming.
Fox reported adjusted net income of $93m, or 16 cents a share, on revenue of $4.09bn in the three months ending in December, topping Wall Street estimates.
Fox News powered the results, outweighing higher expenses in other parts of the business due to rising costs of NFL rights and the cancellation of sports games due to the pandemic. The company’s cable division posted earnings before interest, taxes depreciation and amortisation of $571m, up from $556m a year ago, as affiliate fees for Fox News grew in the “double digits”.
Shares were down 4.5 per cent to $31.24 in early trading.