May 21, 2024

Tucker Carlson’s Viewership Is Down But Still Outpacing Cable News

When former Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson moved to Twitter in June, his first show was seen around 120 million times. That dropped by about half, and the numbers have only steadily fallen since.

The most recent Episode 11, where Carlson conducted an interview with rapper Ice Cube has been seen just 6.1 million times since it was posted last Thursday. However, those are still numbers that any prime-time cable news channel producer or executive would kill for.

Since Carlson moved to the social media platform after being let go from the cable news channel, there has been speculation that other Fox News hosts would make a similar jump.

“Twitter aka X seems to be in a transition period with Musk wanting to put his imprimatur on his acquisition. In the name of free speech, will Musk seek to create a more ‘even-handed; and neutral site where brand advertisers will return—or will the concept of free speech tilt Twitter towards becoming a social platform for the right-wing and other spreaders of hate that scream about free speech, but only if it’s their opinion,” explained technology analyst Susan Schreiner of C4 Trends.

A Transition For Twitter

It may not just be cable news hosts that could be part of such a transition. In May, Elon Musk—who acquired the social media platform last year for $44 billion—hired NBCU’s Linda Yaccarino. She previously oversaw global advertising and partnerships and has vast experience in generating revenue and partnerships with key brands.

“That move would indicate that he is concerned about the appearance of Twitter stabilization in order to generate revenue and entice advertisers to return,” explained Schreiner.

However, that could seem in contrast to Musk’s budding relationship with Tucker Carlson.

“In recent weeks, Tucker has moved further right and seemingly winking at white nationalists and other hate-mongers—in the name of free speech,” added Schreiner who suggested that Musk could still perceive that the former Fox News host could be good for his investment in X (formerly Twitter) and that Carlson could play a key role in creating a platform to rival traditional right-wing cable news and YouTube.

“It seems like for both men there’s the vanity piece and then there’s revenue. While Tucker had high ratings popularity at Fox News—this was in juxtaposition to actual revenue generated, particularly when brand advertisers fled his show,” she explained. “It seems like there’s an element of the Rush Limbaugh model—but nowadays there’s more fragmentation and competition in the right-wing media genre.”

Building An Audience

Even as Carlson has seen a decline in viewers, it is still a large audience for a platform not known for video.

“It is a bit surprising that Tucker has been able to make an audience on Twitter or X,” noted Dr. Cliff Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

“His numbers are a bit hard to interpret, as there are a lot of bots that might be affecting total views,” Lampe explained. “He’s got fewer followers than Rachel Maddox or Jimmy Kimmel as examples. I feel like with his content he’s hitting a single and claiming a grand slam in terms of impact.”

Lampe also suggested that Carlson is not the first media personality to “discover” the disintermediating effects of the Internet.

“Removing the power of gatekeepers has been part of the Internet for at least 30 years, and really for longer,” he added. “I’m not sure there’s anything about X that makes it better than YouTube or TikTok for sharing video, but it is true that it’s never been easier to make video and post it online. I think some like Tucker would argue that it’s Musk’s promise of no moderation that makes the difference. However, nothing Carlson or these other hosts are posting would be moderated out of YouTube either.”

A Revenue Stream

What is notable is how Carlson could truly become the anchor for short-form videos on X, which comes as the nation is entering the next election cycle. Musk and Carlson might be able to tap into the ad revenue in that lead-up, but the question is whether it is sustainable and at what price of harm to X’s brand

“Musk has been ‘fiddling’ with X since his acquisition, and seemingly broken Twitter’s social media contract as a reliable and reputable brand for content consumption,” said Schreiner.

This of course is just one of several changes that Musk has implemented with the former Twitter.

“Recently, Musk’s vision is slowly coming into focus and it relates to making X the U.S. version of WeChat—that unifies social media, business and friendly communications, with commerce and fintech,” Schreiner continued. “For this X platform to succeed it would need widespread acceptance. Why is Musk alienating content creators, followers and advertisers? Where does the fear and misinformation spread by Tucker Carlson fit into Musk’s grander vision?”

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