The Corporate Media Ponders a Post-Trump Era and They Are Worried

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

President Trump has often said he is good for ratings. It seems CNN and MSNBC agree. One analysis claims that in 2016 he received $5.6 billion in free media during the primary and the general elections. This is an astonishing sum but goes a long way to supporting the president’s assertion. Love him or hate him, people were tuning in to see what he said and the corporate media knew it.

Some of the same outlets that got eyeballs and clicks during the 2016 election and continued to accumulate views by being rabidly anti-Trump for four years are worried. Or at least contemplating what their strategy should be going into what is already a very boring Biden era. His speech following the Electoral College vote was full of platitudes yet received drooling coverage from the corporate media.

Another indication of the media’s reliance on Trump for the last five years is a question asked by The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius on a December podcast:

“One thing we can be sure of is that Donald Trump is going to wanna take up as much of our national bandwidth as he can,” Ignatius observed, adding, “How do we get off of that ‘sugar high’ and treat him after Jan. 20 as a former president?”

An article in The New York Times this morning indicated just how difficult this might be:

CNN and MSNBC thrived during the Trump years, reaching new heights in ratings and revenue while devoting countless prime-time hours to criticizing a White House antagonist their viewers just could not quit.

Now faced with a Trump-less future, top executives at the rival cable news networks have summoned star anchors and producers to private meetings in recent weeks, seeking answers to a pressing question: What’s next?

It seems the folks at The New York Times don’t see themselves as facing the same dilemma. Their subscribers grew steadily with their strict anti-Trump reporting. Their constant coverage of leaks from “anonymous sources” and “people familiar with the thinking” was a constant edification source for those opposed to the president. It is of little consequence that they got almost nothing right. They made bank.

The article acknowledges that the cable news medium was on the decline before Trump. The political polarization and invented scandals, such as Russian collusion, revived it. The article notes:

People at both networks know that viewers who abhorred President Trump may no longer need their nightly therapy sessions with Rachel Maddow or Don Lemon. And President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. seems unlikely to generate the 24/7 grist of drama and scandal that resurrected cable news, taking it from a dying medium to a focal point of modern politics.

The answers aren’t clear, and there are already shakeups in the leadership of the anti-Trump media, according to The Times:

  • CNN’s Jeffery Zucker, who controls the network’s coverage by dictating the news and whispering in anchors’ earpieces, has a new boss. Jason Kilar, the founding chief executive of Hulu, has visited the network and had one-on-one meetings with top talent to discuss a CNN branded streaming service.
  • MSNBC has replaced Phil Griffin, who built the current lineup, with Rashida Jones. Their ratings plummeted after the conclusion of the Mueller report and the Kavanaugh hearings, which got breathless, and arguably inaccurate, coverage from the network.
  • Cesar Conde, chairman of NBC News division, has approached MSNBC anchors to determine how to go forward. He is focused on introducing viewers to NBCUniversal’s streaming brand Peacock and podcasts.

Is it possible these cable news providers will convert to a paid streaming service? Fox News appears to be a first mover in this space with Fox Nation. The platform provides a range of exclusive programming that includes some news, documentaries, and even comedy specials. Its hosts are a combination of popular Fox News hosts and new faces. Upon launch, they had a high conversion rate from free trial to paid subscription and reported exceeding their internal benchmarks.

Likewise, Daily Wire, led by Jeremy Boreing and Ben Shapiro, has announced that they will be expanding their offerings with their move to Nashville, Tennessee. They will build an investigative journalism team, an entertainment division, and add a talk show with a live audience. Current hosts, including Shapiro and Andrew Klavan, have hinted that the first feature film from the outlet is coming sometime next year.

There are also rumors the president himself will look to start some type of media company. The buzz is attributed to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner:

“Kushner has floated the idea to Republicans and media types throughout the year… But the increased chatter about the rise of another conservative media outlet, possibly branded under the Trump name, has kicked up even more over the last few weeks as the president’s re-election chances continue to sink.”

Given that the Republican National Convention in 2020 had fantastic production value, the Trump organization diving in could provide an exciting product. It may also be the best way for President Trump to continue to drive the political conversation on his own terms. And Lord knows CNN’S Brain Stelter will have a completely new obsession to replace his focus on Fox News.

It is also possible nothing will change. Rumors are circulating that Trump will announce he is running in 2024 during Joe Biden’s inauguration. This would be almost too Trumpian to believe, but a fitting end to the last four years. And the odd and symbiotic relationship between Trump and the corporate media that hates him will likely continue, relieving their fears.