I wouldn't want to be Sean Hannity's agent this summer.
Can you image the awkward phone calls that were recently made to discuss the fact Hannity's longtime 9 p.m. perch on Fox News had reportedly been given away to Megyn Kelly, and that Hannity's no longer going to be heard on 40 major market talk radio stations owned by Cumulus Media, including Hannity's flagship outlet, WABC-AM New York City.
Either one of those setbacks would qualify as a major career stumble for a right-wing media host who has enjoyed noted stability on radio and television over the last decade. But for both of those to come in the same month, in the span of seven days?
In the national radio and television arena it's all about your platforms; how many radio stations you're heard on and how good your time slot is on television. Nobody's suggesting Hannity's voice will soon be silenced. But when you get bumped from your primetime TV slot of more than a decade, and then you have to scramble to find new AM homes in crucial markets such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas, that means you're having a really bad month.
On the Fox front, it appears that Hannity's aging viewers, made up largely of retirees, may be costing him his 9 p.m. position as the cable channel struggles to retain a younger audience. As for his messy radio breakup with Cumulus, Hannity sources now insist he wanted to get taken off hallmark talk stations like WLS in Chicago, WJR Detroit, and KSFO San Francisco. If he did, Hannity might be the first syndicated talk show host to ever wish to do so.
More likely however, that's just weak spin.
Fox News hasn't yet made public what its primetime lineup will look like with the addition of Megyn Kelly in the 9 p.m. time slot, or where Hannity might land. Kelly's addition is seen as an attempt by Fox chief Roger Ailes to address the accelerated trend of Fox losing viewers between the ages of 25-54; the viewers advertisers most want to reach.
As Bill Carter noted in the New York Times last month:
[F]or six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time, from an average of 557,000 viewers five years ago to 379,000 this year.
In the second quarter this year, Fox scored its lowest ratings among 25-54 viewers since 2001. In total viewers, Fox had 1.2 million during the second quarter, compared to CNN's 475,000. But when you look at just the crucial 25-54 demographic, Fox's ratings lead over second-place CNN shrank dramatically: 238,000 total viewers for Fox, compared to 161,000 for CNN.
For Fox, the Kelly move likely came down to demographics and the fact that Hannity's audience is remarkably old didn't help his cause: 17 percent of the public is 65 and older, yet 42 percent of regular Hannity viewers are senior citizens, according to Pew Research. (Bill O'Reilly audience also skews older, but it's larger than Hannity's.)
Meanwhile, the radio storm that's enveloped Hannity recently represents the end game to a long, public negotiation that Cumulus launched in the press. Sending a signal to both Hannity and Rush Limbaugh that it was unhappy with the high costs associated with carrying their programs, Cumulus threatened to cut ties with each on its 40 talk stations. According to Politico's latest report, Limbaugh has worked out a deal to stay with Cumulus stations. Hannity has not.
The high-profile affiliate news represents the most serious setback to Hannity's radio career since he first became a syndicated host a decade ago. Hannity's show is distributed by Premiere Networks, which is owned by radio behemoth Clear Channel Entertainment. Some Clear Channel-owned stations will pick up Hannity's show in the markets where Cumulus is dropping him. But still, the move stings.
And that's why Hannity's team fanned out in recent days claiming the host wanted to part ways with Cumulus, claiming it was his idea. Hannity's sources insisted the talker hated working for Cumulus because it treats its employees “like dirt, shit, sub-human.” And according to a particularly friendly telling in Mediaite, Hannity was said to be furious at how many station employees Cumulus had laid off in recent years.
But the spin doesn't hold up.
If Cumulus hosts such an awful, boorish culture why is Limbaugh renewing his contract with them?
And it's Hannity who supposedly decided to walk away from Cumulus because the broadcasting group has fired too many people? Veterans inside the radio industry must still be chuckling at that one. The punch line stems from the fact that over the last ten years Hannity's bosses at Clear Channel have laid off thousands and thousands of employees. Clear Channel has pretty much defined itself by the ruthless way it has treated its employees and endless ways it's found to fire them; to strip down once-vibrant stations, run them on the cheap, and then often run them into the ground. There's a reason Clear Channel is known as the Evil Empire of commercial radio.
But according to Hannity's sources, the talker can't sleep at night knowing Cumulus has laid off so many people and he must cut ties with the company and work more closely with Clear Channel?
The cover story is amusing. And the charade worked on the Hannity defenders in the conservative press who dutifully typed up accounts about how the host had “fired” Cumulus. (Just like Limbaugh was going to 'fire' Cumulus in May, remember?) But that's not really how the radio business works.
Exit question: Is Bill O'Reilly enjoying this run of Hannity bad news?