Yesterday, Mercedes-Benz announced that they were dropping their advertising from The O'Reilly Factor show on "Fox News." While that alone got a great deal of attention, what was almost as noteworthy -- and which has gotten little attention -- is that they announced it.
When most companies drop their advertising from a TV show, they...well, simply drop it. They don't put out a press release to announce it to the world. But that Mercedes-Benz thought it was critical enough to publicly disassociate themselves from O'Reilly and his reported $13 million worth of sexual harassment payouts by Fox speaks loudest of all.
And it's not just that they announced they were pulling their ads, but explained why, in blatant, critical terms. "“The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now."
(It's important to note, as well, that this story is far more problematic than just to Bill O'Reilly, but to "Fox News" itself. If the investigative report is true -- and we know for a fact on the record that at least some of it is that has long-since been made public -- it means that Fox hid significant payments of $13 million from shareholders of the parent News Corp....and over sexual harassment charges, which were kept hidden from shareholders, as well. That's never a good thing)
What I said about this action by Mercedes-Benz to a friend, too, is that it's not just the announcement and ad withdrawal by itself that is so important, but that this gives cover now to all other companies to drop out. Not only do most companies not like to be first with such things -- especially when risking "offending" viewers of a top-rated "news" show -- but to have that first company to do so be one as pronounced as Mercedes-Benz makes the protective cover all the more substantive.
Well, now comes the deluge.
Mercedes-Benz flung the door open wide and gave its imprimatur. And so now, advertisers are fleeing O’Reilly. As of this writing, 15 companies have pulled their ads from the show. (At least 15, the number is a bit uncertain with some reports at 18.)
In the broadcast world, this is known as Not a Good Thing.
And also Not a Good Thing is when at least 15 companies pull their ads from your most high-profile show and then many of them also publicly explain why they are doing so. And the reason turns out to be for really blunt, critical reasons, too. As when Hyundai explained --
"Hyundai currently has no advertising running on The O'Reilly Factor. We had upcoming advertising spots on the show but are reallocating them due to the recent and disturbing allegations."As a company we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions."
How "Not good" this is for Fox can be seen by the channel feeling compelled to put out their own press release (and from the sales department, no less) to handle the fallout, while specifically and openly making clear the reason for the problem with advertisers. This is the sort of thing you often do when you're considering throwing the problem under the bus. "We are working with them [the advertisers] to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor,” the network’s executive vice president of ad sales Paul Rittenberg wrote. In a later tweet, he added a clarification by noting that these companies were all still advertising on Fox.
While that sounds good -- except for Bill O'Reilly -- that the advertisers are still with Fox, keep in mind that there are only so many minutes a day that can be used for advertising. So, if at least 15 companies are having their ads moved to different parts of the Fox schedule, then other ads may well be dropped out, which likely makes this move an economic wash. Moreover, there are most probably contractual obligations for both the companies and Fox to "make good" on the placement of ads, which is why the advertisers are sticking around, rather than being because they're good sports. Furthermore, the ads rates for other shows are certainly less and probably much less than what was being charged on the primetime, top-rated The O'Reilly Factor. And additionally, this says nothing about the holes that now exist in the O'Reilly show where ads have been pulled. Indeed, if other ads have been plugged in quickly, they might be at lower prices, for all we know.
This is Not Good for Fox and O'Reilly.
The loudest thing about this current situation is the silence that the usually verbose and belligerent Bill O'Reilly offered on his show after the news story and Mercedes announcement. Not a word.
The next loudest thing was a tweet sent by CNN anchor Don Lemon in response to an ill-advised slam O'Reilly had made against him that very night on The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly had accused Lemon of not covering the (pointless) allegations about former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice supposedly leaking the names of Trump officials, of which there is no evidence. Lemon sent out a tweet --
"False. I did not refuse to cover the story. But I did cover your sexual harassment allegations. Did you?"
None of this is to say that the sexual harassment story, reports of payments, and sponsor fallout means that Bill O'Reilly will be fired from "Fox News." But it would be unreasonable to think that those discussions aren't at least being held in the company's boardroom.
The question is whether The O'Reilly Factor will weather the storm -- this is Fox, after all, where sexual harassment is a way of life -- or instead cease to be much of a factor...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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