Fox News’s Streaming Playbook: Hollywood Stars and Conservative Documentaries

‘Yellowstone One-Fifty,’ a documentary about Yellowstone National Park featuring Kevin Costner.
‘Yellowstone One-Fifty,’ a documentary about Yellowstone National Park featuring Kevin Costner.

Summary

A Matthew McConaughey-narrated show about Texas wildlife is set to join the streaming service Fox Nation this spring.

On “The Five," Fox News’s roundtable show, Jeanine Pirro rips on President Biden and urges Taylor Swift not to endorse him. On Fox Nation, the network’s streaming service, she raves about the views and amenities of five-star hotels on “Life of Luxury With Judge Jeanine."

That contrast is all part of the plan.

Fox is positioning the streaming service to complement its flagship TV channel rather than be a replica of it. Fox Nation, which costs $5.99 a month, is veering away from hard news and luring subscribers with documentaries, series and comedy specials that appeal to conservatives and feature Hollywood stars like Matthew McConaughey.

Fox is taking a starkly different approach from its rivals as cable news channels try to figure out the right business model to offset consumers increasingly cutting the cable TV cord. CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery launched a CNN-branded live news service for its Max platform, while MSNBC is making much of its TV lineup available on its parent company’s Peacock service.

Fox doesn’t have a comparable all-encompassing subscription-streaming service for its news content. Tubi, its free streaming platform, offers access to entertainment and sports programming, as well as some news content, but doesn’t have feeds from major cable news channels.

Fox executives say the cable-TV business is still strong enough to continue powering revenue and profit growth, but note that the company is set up to offer Fox News in a streaming form if that becomes necessary.

“If there is a direct-to-consumer future for the linear channel, Fox Nation is a great place for it to ultimately be," said Jason Klarman, Fox News’s chief digital and marketing officer. “But again, there’s no plans for any of that."

Fox said earlier this month that it is joining forces with Disney and Warner to launch a new sports-centric streaming bundle that will pool their live games. Fox Corp. Chief Executive Lachlan Murdoch told investors the goal is to target “cord nevers," people who’ve never had a traditional pay-TV subscription. But the service could also appeal to existing cable subscribers and hasten the decline of the traditional business, media executives said.

The creation of this sports-streaming bundle raises the question of whether a similar model could work for news—something observers say is unlikely to happen.

“The audiences are so fragmented," said Doug Arthur, an analyst at Huber Research. “An audience that wants to watch Fox News does not want to watch MSNBC and probably the same for CNN."

Fox Nation parent Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

When Fox News Chief Suzanne Scott launched Fox Nation in 2018, it was initially more heavily focused on news and opinion. The service eventually pivoted to more evergreen content, such as shows about U.S. history and the great outdoors, after executives noticed that programs like “Park’d," a show about American landmarks such as Joshua Tree National Park and Shenandoah National Park, were performing particularly well.

“We started to see that the people who were coming to the service were looking for something that Fox News Channel wasn’t giving them," said Klarman.

Klarman was part of the original team that launched Fox News in 1996 and then had stints as an executive for NBCUniversal’s Oxygen Media and Bravo before returning full-time in 2019.

The platform is home to shows such as “Yellowstone One-Fifty," a documentary about Yellowstone National Park featuring Kevin Costner, star of the show “Yellowstone"; a series about the Boston Tea Party narrated by Rob Lowe; and a show about Revolutionary War battles hosted by “Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer.

Fox Nation also bought “Deep in the Heart," a series about Texas wildlife that is narrated by Matthew McConaughey and will debut on the platform in April.

“It’s not just Hollywood," Klarman said of Fox Nation’s programming choices. “It’s the Hollywood that Fox News viewers find aspirational and want to connect to."

There are some risks to the strategy of veering away from news. CNN, under its previous ownership, tried a similar strategy in 2022 with CNN+. That $5.99-a-month service mostly offered content like “Jake Tapper’s Book Club" and “Parental Guidance With Anderson Cooper" rather than a live feed to its highest-profile programming. When new ownership came in, CNN+ was canceled after it signed up 150,000 subscribers in its first few weeks.

Fox Nation had similar programming, such as “Dana Perino’s Book Club," that launched long before CNN+ came into existence. Fox Nation has about two million subscribers, said a person with knowledge of the subject.

Arthur, the Huber analyst, said Fox is getting a good return on investment with Fox Nation. “I think two million is decent, considering it’s not a major focus," he said, noting that Tubi, Fox’s ad-supported streaming platform, is of more interest to Wall Street.

That two million subscriber number would translate into about $140 million in annual revenue, a fraction of the overall contribution of Fox News to the company’s top line—which totaled about $3 billion last year, according to Kagan, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The service is bringing in a younger audience. Fox Nation’s average viewer is 50, Fox said, and the gender balance is about even. The median age of the Fox News viewer is 69, according to Nielsen.

Only a fraction of Fox News’s programming—including “Hannity" and “Jesse Watters Primetime," two of its highest-rated shows—are available on Fox Nation, and only the morning after they air. Fox Nation features other Fox News on-air personalities, including Brian Kilmeade, George “Tyrus" Murdoch and Ainsley Earhardt.

The streaming platform has plenty of content catering specifically to conservatives, such as comedy specials about “cancel culture" and the culture wars featuring Rob Schneider and Roseanne Barr. “The Miseducation of America" is a show described as an exploration of “the secrets of the Left’s educational agenda" hosted by “Fox & Friends Weekend" co-host Pete Hegseth.

In an interview, Hegseth said Fox Nation lets him take big swings at subjects he cares about and thinks will resonate with viewers.

News networks have had to walk a fine line when it comes to making their content available on streaming without cannibalizing their cable-TV business or running afoul of contractual obligations with pay-TV providers.

Unlike its cable-news rivals, Fox Corp. has remained bullish on the value of its traditional television business. Fox News draws about 50% more prime-time viewers than MSNBC and three times as many as CNN, according to Nielsen.

“The cable bundle remains our largest and most important revenue stream," Murdoch said in November. “We believe that it will remain our largest for years to come."

Write to Isabella Simonetti at isabella.simonetti@wsj.com

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