LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Newsmax, a conservative cable news channel promoted by President Donald Trump, plans to expand in the United States and Britain, Chief Executive Chris Ruddy told Reuters.
The network plans to hire more staff in the United States and London, debut a new primetime host and add more weekend programming to capitalize on post-election gains and some viewers’ discontent with Rupert Murdoch’s longtime ratings king Fox News.
Aided by shout-outs from Trump on Twitter, Newsmax’s weekly primetime viewership has jumped 68% since the U.S. presidential election as the channel refused to declare Joe Biden the winner and aired debunked theories about voter fraud.
Early evening host Greg Kelly on Monday averaged 229,000 viewers ages 25 to 54, the group most coveted by cable news advertisers, for the first time beating Fox’s Martha MacCallum, who brought in 203,000 viewers in that age range at that hour.
MacCallum, however, won in overall viewers, and reclaimed her lead in both categories on Tuesday, suggesting the Newsmax gains may be fragile. Some key audience metrics have slipped from Newsmax’s post-election peaks. Primetime viewership for the week that ended Dec. 4 was down 21% from two weeks earlier, averaging 391,000 viewers, while its total day audience fell 19%.
Fox News, which also has declined from election-week highs, still averaged 2.9 million primetime viewers that week, a sign of its strength after almost 19 years as the most-watched cable news channel.
The network had its highest-rated November in history, drawing 3.9 million primetime viewers, beating all cable networks, not just cable news. Primetime host Tucker Carlson averaged 5 million viewers for a second straight month, a record for cable television.
Ruddy noted that, despite some dips, Newsmax is hovering high above pre-election levels.
He sees the 40 million viewers not on cable as the next battleground for growth. In addition to cable news, the network streams for free on platforms including YouTube and a Newsmax app, which Ruddy said roughly doubles the nighttime audience.
“People are really tired of Fox News,” Ruddy said in a recent interview. “There is a perception that they really tried to torpedo the president.”
Fox News declined to comment.
Trump has complained about its coverage of his presidency. The network further irked the president and some viewers on election night with a projection that Biden had won Arizona -- nine days before most major news organizations confirmed that win.
“Newsmax, I think, has been gaining ground against Fox News because it’s been able to convince some fraction of Fox’s audience that it is more loyal to the president than Fox is,” said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America.
One of Newsmax’s latest displays of Trump loyalty sparked a lawsuit. Former U.S. cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs sued Trump lawyer Joseph diGenova, Newsmax and the Trump campaign after diGenova said Krebs should be “taken out at dawn and shot” after Krebs disputed Trump’s claims of election fraud.
Newsmax said that while diGenova made “inappropriate” comments, Krebs’ lawsuit threatened free speech.
It is unclear whether Newsmax’s surge is sustainable over a longer term after Trump leaves office.
Available in roughly 70 million cable TV homes, Newsmax is on a “hiring splurge,” Ruddy said. The network has added 25 employees since the election to bring its total workforce to 275. It plans to hire 30 more over the next three months, including one in London and another in Los Angeles.
Newsmax, which is based in Florida, also plans to hire staff for a bureau in the state, home to both Trump and his Mar-a-Lago resort. Most of Newsmax’s current 165 television staff are based in New York. Fox News has hundreds of journalists based in 10 U.S. bureaus and three international bureaus.
This month, Newsmax will launch a 10 p.m. ET (0300 GMT) program hosted by Rob Schmitt, a former early morning Fox News host.
Ruddy said he is currently considering various offers to invest in the channel but shot down media reports that the network was for sale.
Trump, meanwhile, is debating where to take his megaphone after he leaves office on Jan. 20. The president is considering starting a TV channel or social media company, according to several advisers.
A longtime friend of Trump’s, Ruddy said he does not want to turn Newsmax into Trump TV, though he said he has told the president he would welcome him as a regular contributor or show host.
Fox’s more recent challengers on the right remain independent networks like Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN), rather than major media conglomerates, because large players view the conservative media business as too risky, said Christopher Balfe, partner at media firm Red Seat Ventures, which advises on new media startups.
“None of (the independents) have deep enough pockets from a resource perspective to be truly competitive,” Balfe said.
Fox spent $1 billion before Fox News became profitable, Fox Corp Chief Financial Officer Steve Tomsic said this week.
“It’s not a small undertaking to try to compete at that level,” Tomsic said at a UBS conference. “When people think about competition, their knee-jerk reaction is to think ‘Well, all we need is two or three talking heads to go head to head with ours.’ The business is much bigger than that.”
Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker
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