The Loudest Voice: a lesson in content strategy

Comment from Peter Saxon

I’m looking forward to watching the second episode of Stan’s latest offering, The Loudest Voice.
It stars Russell Crowe as the brilliant and corpulent haemophiliac Roger Ailes who was shunted out of CNN under a cloud of inappropriate behaviour involvong an unspecified number of female staff. He was given a hefty payout and, despite a tight non-compete clause, found a way around it to join Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and help start up a new player, to be called Fox News, in an already overcrowded US cable news market.
Early action takes place in 1995, a year out from launch. A group of senior executives, mostly Australians, including Ian Rae, Rupert Murdoch’s close confidant who has already been anointed Executive Vice President – Fox News, are gathered in a meeting room to discuss what Fox News will look like. 
With a Power Point clicker in hand, a woman who looks a lot like Julie Bishop and sounds like her too is doing the presentation. “CNN represents the old,” she proclaims. “They’re stuck in the 1980’s. Fox News will be programmed for the ‘90s – fast, loud, edgy, tabloid TV.”
Sitting next to Murdoch, Ian Rae chimes in: “It’s based on a very similar concept to A Current Affair, Rupert. And draws on the strengths of The Post and The Sun.” 
Murdoch seems pleased, “Sounds good to me Gents.” And then turns to Roger Ailes for his opinion.
Ailes looks at the woman with the Power Point and asks, “One question: Who is your audience?”
She replies, “Everyone. We want to reach the widest audience possible.”
I could hear the astute readers of radioinfo, especially those in the content business, cry “WRONG!” as soon as she said it.
Indeed, Ailes’ rejoinder is, “Well, I think that’s wrong. You don’t need everyone. Your problem is that you’re talking broadcast. Cable is different. Cable is about one thing and that is niche. The loyalty of a passionate few. We need to program directly to the viewer who is pre-disposed to what we’re trying to sell.”


“And what is that niche?” Asks Ms Power Point, 1995.
“I think it’s conservative – which is roughly half the country,” says Ailes.
One senses that if the playing field had have been different and CNN had have been a conservative news outlet and it was a progressive audience that had been under-catered for, then Ailes would have given Fox News a very different outlook.
While all that may be new to the average viewer, or go over their heads entirely, to the broadcast professional it suggests that Fox News’ conservative agenda has less to do with the owner’s politics than it has with making money. After all, Fox also broadcasts The Simpsons, one of the longest running and most left leaning programs on television. 
The latest episode, which will stream on Stan from 2pm today, will cover how Ailes and his crew took Fox News to new heights following 9/11. 

Peter Saxon

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