How Long Will National Brands Stay Away From The O’Reilly Factor?

Fox News says the host is taking a preplanned vacation

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Fox News has seen national advertisers flee The O’Reilly Factor since its April 3 broadcast, two days after the The New York Times published a story about O’Reilly and the network paying settlements to five women who had accused the host of sexual harassment. In fact, according to a study by Kantar Media, the amount of ad time national sponsors have bought for the program has fallen by more than 50 percent since the story was published.

In the four weeks prior to the allegations being made public, an average prime-time airing of The O’Reilly Factor carried 33 national spots totaling 14 minutes and 32 seconds of commercial time (excluding network promos and local spots bought by cable providers). That bottomed out on April 7 with seven national spots totaling four minutes and 40 seconds. The April 10 broadcast had 11 paid national spots totaling seven minutes and 10 seconds.

The shows lineup of sponsors now consists mostly of direct-response marketers and other small-budget brands, including Australian Dream pain reliever, Wax Rx and Fox News fixture My Pillow.

“Everything’s in crisis mode right now,” said Kantar Media chief research officer Jon Swallen. “All the focus is on the action that advertisers are taking to distance themselves from the program. But it also begs the question: How long will this last?”

That depends on whom you ask.

On his Tuesday broadcast, O’Reilly announced that he’s going on vacation. “I like to take time off around Easter; it’s calming,” he said. He told viewers he’s going on a trip he booked “last fall.”

New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, who has chronicled Fox News for years, isn’t so sure O’Reilly will return. Sources are telling Sherman that O’Reilly may have already hosted his final episode. Fox News disputes that, saying, “O’Reilly is on a preplanned vacation, and he will return on April 24.”

Will brands come back to Fox News’ 8 p.m. hour while O’Reilly is away? Swallen doesn’t think so, considering the relatively short length of the break.

“If the expectation is that O’Reilly will return on April 24, as the network says, then in that interval, I don’t expect that any of the boycott advertisers will come back,” Swallen said. “Ten or so days isn’t enough to placate any of them. If O’Reilly ends up taking an extended break from the program and goes off the air for several months, then I think the advertisers would feel more comfortable about coming back to the program or whatever program replaces it.”

Insiders say there is concern at the top about the loss of sponsors and the ad revenue they bring. The Cable Network segment of 21st Century Fox, which includes Fox News, brought in more than half of the company’s revenue in the final six months of 2016—$7.77 billion of a total haul of $14.18 billion.

“The issue right now is the host. It’s not the content or the program,” Swallen said.

The controversy surrounding O’Reilly is not negatively affecting ratings, however—quite the opposite. O’Reilly is coming off a stellar week, finishing as the No. 1 show across cable news and posting year-over-year audience growth. It’s also possible that fewer commercials are leading to more viewers.

While many have been critical of Fox News’ decision to stick with O’Reilly through all the turmoil, don’t expect national advertisers to pull their money from the network altogether, Swallen cautioned.

“The advertisers are passengers, and these passengers have asked to rebook their flights to a different time,” he said. “The airline, Fox News, has accommodated them, and everyone has been rebooked. And they can continue with their travel. That’s very different from deciding that you’re going to cancel your entire trip.”

He added, “Basically, advertisers are still taking this trip, they’re just taking a different flight on the same airline.”

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.