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Roger Ailes Has No Fear of Cord Cutters or Jon Stewart

Image: Roger Ailes Has No Fear of Cord Cutters or Jon Stewart

By Jim Meyers   |   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2013 01:24 PM

Fox News Channel founder Roger Ailes tells Chief Executive magazine that changes in the way consumers watch TV won't affect his channel for the foreseeable future.

Ailes comments were featured in a wide-ranging interview conducted by Editor-in-Chief J.P. Donlon as part of the September-October issue's cover story headlined "The Man Who Changed TV News Is About to Change It Again."

Questioned about the problem of "stagnant" cable subscription growth and the growing number of "cord cutters" — more than 4 million people now rely on Internet video rather than paying for TV — Ailes claimed he was not overly concerned by the trend.

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The Fox chairman points to data showing that 41 percent of news consumption remains with television when measured by time spent rather than raw audience numbers, compared to just 8 percent for digital platforms.

"That said, today there's much more convergence [between the computer and the television screen] than there used to be," said Ailes, who founded Fox News Channel in 1996 and became chairman of Fox Television Stations Group in 2005.

"However, the Pew [Research Center] recently did a study, and it determined that the dominant source of news to most Americans is still television."

Acknowledging that digital platforms are particularly popular among younger people, Ailes says "the good news about younger people is they get older. And when they get older, some of their habits change back to older people's habits.

"Everybody won't be 22 forever. Giving up your core business in search of a phantom audience is not wise."

As for attracting those younger people to cable news, Ailes says: "Our education system, of course, doesn't teach civics. It propagandizes current events for political purposes, so creating curiosity among the young about actual news events is a challenge.

"You have to try to program to that audience and bring them in and get them loyal to your brand."

Donlon refers to a poll in which 44 percent of respondents said Comedy Central's "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart was the most trustworthy source of news.

Ailes dismisses the notion: "The reality is, to watch Jon Stewart you already have to have watched the news. In other words, it's not funny if he does a joke about John McCain and they don't know who John McCain is."

Why, then, is Stewart so popular with younger views?

Ailes offers an interesting take: Young people like Jon Stewart because their parents don't.

"Their parents are probably watching Fox News," Ailes says. "Anything to stick it to their parents."

As an aside, Ailes discloses that Stewart once told him he is a socialist.

"I told him: 'I'll tell you when you are a capitalist, Jon,'" Ailes recalls. "'On the day you have to renegotiate your own contract. My guess is you will really go for the money then.'"

Asked if he believes people are willing to pay for a Fox News channel, Ailes declares: "Yes, people will pay for the Fox News Channel, despite the fact that the general feeling, one created by the Internet, is that everything should be free."

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Among the changes in the cable news industry Ailes foresees in the years ahead, he cites "an integration of digital platforms and social media," noting that "what once required a bureau of 10,000 people or 10,000 square feet now becomes a guy with something in his pocket."

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