Jan 11, 2022 - Economy & Business

Cable news networks chart divergent paths in post-Trump era

Photos: From left: Jesse Watters, Audie Cornish, Symone D. Sanders. Credits; John Lamparski/Getty Images, Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images, Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all announced major hires and staffing shakeups Monday, as the three networks continue to wrestle with their post-Trump and post-cable futures.

Why it matters: While CNN appears to be pushing aggressively into lifestyle and hard news programming for its new streaming service CNN+, MSNBC and Fox News are doubling down on partisan voices.

Driving the news: Fox News on Monday named Jesse Watters the new host of its 7pm hour, per an announcement from CEO Suzanne Scott.

  • The new show, called "Jesse Watters Primetime," will launch on Jan. 24. Watters will remain a co-host of Fox News's daily 5pm show, "The Five."
  • Watters was recently criticized for incendiary comments he made toward President Biden's chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci in December.

Be smart: In adding Watters to its lineup, Fox News is leaning into its pro-Trump viewership. Watters replaces Martha MacCallum, who was moved to the network's dayside lineup in January, shortly after Biden was elected.

  • Under pressure to address pro-Trump viewers after calling the election for Biden in 2020, Fox News has leaned into its opinion programming, anchored by Sean Hannity at 8pm, Tucker Carlson at 9pm and Laura Ingraham at 10pm Carlson's show was the highest-rated program in cable news last year.
  • Carlson last year debuted a new special for his series on Fox Nation, Fox News' opinion streaming platform — which baselessly suggested that the Capitol riot was a "false flag" event actually orchestrated by the government. The teaser drew widespread backlash and reportedly sparked objections from fellow Fox News hosts like former "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace, per NPR.
  • In December, Wallace announced he was leaving the network after nearly two decades to anchor for CNN's new streaming service, CNN+. His departure was seen as a major loss for Fox's news division and a signal of the direction the network is moving toward.

Yes, but: Fox isn't alone in pushing more aggressively into partisan voices.

  • MSNBC said Monday that it has hired Symone Sanders, a former senior adviser and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, to host a new weekend show on its cable network, and a streaming program for its streaming product on NBC's Peacock service.
  • In 2020, MSNBC replaced Chris Matthews in its 7pm slow with a more progressive host, Joy Reid. It added new weekend shows hosted by Washington Post opinion columnist Jonathan Capehart and political analyst Tiffany Cross in 2020.
  • These moves, in addition to many others, underscore NBC News' wider push to have a more diverse set of voices represented in its newsroom and on air.

The big picture: These changes are happening amid a greater shift toward streaming that's been expedited by the pandemic.

  • As cable viewership declines, networks have been forced to address the inevitable shift to streaming faster than they may have anticipated.
  • Fox News last year launched a new, ad-supported 24/7 streaming service called Fox Weather, in addition to its subscription opinion streamer Fox Nation.
  • CNN has been aggressively hiring for its new subscription streaming service CNN+, which is set to launch later this year.
  • On Monday, it announced NPR veteran Audie Cornish was joining CNN as an anchor and correspondent for CNN+. In addition to bringing on news talent, it's also announced lifestyle programming efforts, like a new show from cooking writer Alison Roman.
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