OAN's troubles spark questions for conservative cable news

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(The Hill) – Verizon’s decision to drop One American News from its channel listings is raising questions about the future of conservative cable news networks that have sought to position themselves as competition to Fox News.  

Before the 2020 presidential election, few news consumers had tuned into or even heard of the One America News (OAN) and Newsmax cable networks.  

But the networks won outsized attention as both covered and supported former President Trump’s fight to contest his election loss.  

OAN’s future is very much in question after Verizon last month became the latest major cable provider to cut it from its lineup.

In January, DirecTV announced it would not renew its contract with the San Diego-based channel following an aggressive pressure campaign from critics who argued the content on OAN was harmful.  

A recent New York Times analysis estimated the two decisions could cost OAN a presence in some 20 million homes, and it is unclear how the channel will stay operational at the scale it had been during the period immediately following the 2020 election.   

The network declined to comment on Monday. 

Verizon has not said why the decision to drop OAN was made, but observers point to the network’s low ratings compared to the other major cable talk and news channels.   

“There genuinely wasn’t a business case for these providers not just to be keeping One America News, but paying the carriers that they were,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America, which participated in a pressure campaign to get OAN taken off the air. “Unless they get a cash infusion from a third party to operate, they can’t.”  

Newsmax’s future seems quite a bit brighter, in comparison.  

Just days after it announced it would drop OAN, Verizon renewed its deal with Newsmax. In an interview, network CEO Chris Ruddy told The Hill that “Verizon never made any issue of our politics whatsoever and never has.”  

“What we’ve proven is that we’re here to stay,” Ruddy said of his network, which has recently hired Eric Bolling and Greta Van Susteren, former personalities on Fox News, to host shows in prime time. “A lot of people thought that our rise after the 2020 election was temporary.”  

Newsmax and OAN’s ratings are dwarfed by those of the three leading cable news channels, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.  

Both channels have also seen their ratings drop in recent months, though the same is true for larger channels.  

Nielsen data showed a 38 percent drop in weekday prime-time viewership for CNN in 2021, a 34 percent drop for Fox News Channel and 25 percent drop for MSNBC as viewers watched cable less with President Biden in the Oval Office instead of Trump. 

Fox News’s prime-time opinion hosts dominate the conservative commentary world on television, averaging 2.4 million viewers nightly so far this year, beating Newsmax by more than 1,000 percent. Newsmax has only delivered 1 million viewers 17 times in its history, Nielsen ratings data shows. 

In the conservative media space, experts say the emergence of OAN and Newsmax is evidence of an increasingly fractured political discourse on the right and the public’s widely-documented dissatisfaction with traditional media.  

“We are at a point where we have never been before in terms of the number of choices consumers have to get their news,” said Rob Bluey, who oversees the conservative Heritage Foundation’s communications strategy and runs its media apparatus known online as The Daily Signal. “When it comes to digital media there’s any number of options. When it comes to broadcasting, obviously it’s a little more challenging.”  

While Fox News has been covering Trump less than while he was president, the other smaller conservative cable outlets with Trump-hungry audiences have not backed off.  

“If the current offerings don’t sit well with their politics, I would expect audiences to look for other, better-aligned sources,” said Natalie Stroud, the director of the University of Texas’s Center for Media Engagement. “As the 2024 election heats up, I suspect that we’ll see renewed interest in ideologically aligned sources.”  

Part of what OAN needs to survive, others say, is promotion from Trump himself.  

When Trump was president, he and his press secretaries would call on the outlet for questions at press conferences.

“I just wouldn’t put too much stock in the fate of OAN as meaning much one way or the other,” said Rich Lowry, the top editor at the conservative National Review. “I don’t think it ever really had much of an audience or much purchase, except for Trump occasionally trying to pump it up. I do think there are a lot of outlets that got a sugar high from the post-election environment … and such a premium for that kind of content among part of the Republican base. And I think that has faded out so maybe that’s part of what’s going on with OAN.”

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