O’Reilly, Fox still racking up ratings despite controversy

NEW YORK (AP) — Advertisers are fleeing Bill O’Reilly’s “no spin zone” on Fox News Channel, but viewers are remaining loyal.

“The O’Reilly Factor” averaged 3.71 million viewers over five nights last week, the Nielsen company said Tuesday. That’s up 12 percent from the 3.31 million viewers he averaged the week before and up 28 percent compared to the same week in 2016.

O’Reilly’s show averaged just under 4 million viewers for the first three months of 2017, his biggest quarter ever in the show’s 20-year history.

“Controversy is a breeding ground for interest,” said Marc Berman, editor in chief of The Programming Insider. “So people who otherwise might not have seen his show recently are curious. People might want to see if he addresses the subject. If the ratings were not up, I would have been surprised.”

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Some five dozen companies have said they wouldn’t advertise on O’Reilly’s show following a report in The New York Times on April 2 that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about harassment allegations against cable television news’ most popular personality. O’Reilly has denied any wrongdoing.

It has left his show with a more unusual array of commercials than you’d typically see for a popular program — like Monday night’s ad for a device that clears ear wax.

The amount of advertising time by paying customers on “The O’Reilly Factor” has been cut by more than half since the Times report, according to an analysis issued Tuesday by Kantar Media. In the month prior to the story, his show averaged 14 minutes, 32 seconds an hour of ads by paying national clients, Kantar said. By last Friday, the paid advertising time had bottomed out at 4 minutes, 10 seconds, before rebounding to 7:10 on Monday.

His sponsors lately have been leaning toward more opportunistic direct-mail marketers or other small budget brands, the company said.

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O’Reilly had five of the seven most-watched programs on cable television last week, and he more than doubled the average audiences for his rivals on CNN and MSNBC combined. But he was topped by a teammate: Sean Hannity’s show last Thursday, less than an hour after it was announced that President Trump had taken military action in Syria, had nearly 5 million viewers.

A broadcast news show reached an important milestone last week. “CBS This Morning” averaged 3.7 million viewers last week, only 354,000 fewer than NBC’s “Today” show and 644,000 below ABC’s “Good Morning America.” That’s the strongest a CBS morning news program has been competitively in at least 29 years, the Nielsen company said.

When “CBS This Morning” began five years ago, it typically had nearly 3 million viewers less than “Today” each day.

CBS dominated the prime-time rankings last week, led by the NCAA men’s basketball championship between North Carolina and Gonzaga. The network averaged 9.1 million viewers. NBC had 5.4 million, ABC had 4.4 million, Fox had 2.5 million, Univision had 1.6 million, Telemundo had 1.4 million, ION Television had 1.2 million and the CW had 1 million.

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Fox News was the week’s most popular cable network, averaging 2.78 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC had 1.6 million, USA had 1.56 million, HGTV had 1.39 million and TBS had 1.2 million.

ABC’s “World News Tonight” scored a narrow victory in the evening news ratings, averaging 7.93 million viewers to NBC “Nightly News” and its 7.91 million. The “CBS Evening News” had 6.2 million.

For the week of April 3-9, the top 10 show, their networks and viewerships: NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship: Gonzaga vs. North Carolina, CBS, 23.01 million; “NCAA Pre-Game,” CBS, 14.08 million; “NCIS,” CBS, 13.83 million; “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 12.6 million; “60 Minutes,” CBS, 11.64 million; “Bull,” CBS, 11.1 million; “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC, 10.47 million; “The Voice” (Monday), NBC, 10.04 million; “Blue Bloods,” CBS, 9.77 million; “The Voice” (Tuesday), NBC, 9.52 million.