NEW YORK (AP) — The departure of Rupert Murdoch as the leader of Fox’s parent company and his News Corp. media holdings after decades at the helm is unlikely to have as much of an impact on conservative media overall as it would have a decade ago.
That's because the landscape in general is increasingly fractured, experts said. With a growing number of digital media sources available to them, right-leaning audiences have plenty of options for getting news, opinion and entertainment.
“I think if Rupert Murdoch had stepped down in 2000 it would have had a much greater impact," said Howard Polskin, whose website The Righting.com monitors conservative media. "The conservative media landscape is just much more diverse now.”
Fox News' website had nearly 74.8 million viewers in July 2023, while the No. 2 most visited site, The Washington Examiner, had just 7.5 million and No. 3, The Epoch Times, had 6.2 million, according to TheRighting.com.
But people are turning more and more to smaller sites, podcasts and other digital products to get news. Conservative media personalities such as Tucker Carlson, who was ousted by Fox in April, Daily Wire podcaster Ben Shapiro, and talk show host and podcaster Megyn Kelly, also a former Fox host, are increasingly influential as well.
“They cast a lot of influence over right-wing media and right-wing thought," Polskin said.
The change at the top of Fox and News Corp. comes months ahead of the 2024 presidential election where Donald Trump is favored to be the Republican nominee.
It's possible Murdoch's successor, son Lachlan Murdoch, will try to draw back pro-Trump viewers who left Fox Media after the 2020 election, particularly because the number of cable news viewers in general is shrinking and there are many more smaller competitors “that can eat away at Fox’s viewership,” said Nicole Hemmer, a political historian specializing in media, conservatism, and the presidency at Vanderbilt University.
While Rupert Murdoch had a complicated relationship with Trump, Fox News' audience largely admires him. But recently the former president has feuded with the network over what he considers unfriendly coverage.
“There is real dissatisfaction with Fox News, certainly by some of the far right and a significant part of the Trump base that sees Fox as too establishment, as too corporate,” she said. “And so I think that it is likely that Lachlan’s play will be trying to at least stop the bleeding or to even build Fox’s viewership by moving more to the right.”
But Megan Duncan, a Virginia Tech communications professor who studies news audiences, said it's unlikely there will be big changes at Fox as long as Rupert Murdoch is still around as chairman emeritus, since he has long groomed Lachlan as his successor.
“He’s made sure that his son has been involved in the company all along,” she said. “And we know from his time in the company that (Lachlan's) views are very similar and probably he’s not going to do a 180 with the company."
Still, with smaller outlets like Newsmax on its heels, one worry for Fox might be Trump's loyalty, said Claire Atkinson, media writer for The Ankler.
“If Trump is the candidate and Trump decides to go somewhere else or swing his viewers behind other outlets, it has the potential to hurt Fox News,” she said. But, she added, that that isn't likely.
“The power of television really endures,” she said. “And obviously, Fox News is the No. 1 cable news network for decades now.”
Associated Press writer Brooke Lefferts contributed to this report.
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives funding from the Quadrivium foundation, founded by James and Kathryn Murdoch. More information about AP climate initiative can be found here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.