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Within minutes of each other on Sunday, the emails from Fox FOXA and CNN landed in reporters’ inboxes. Both of them conveying their complementary portions of the announcement of a major talent exit — first from Fox, that Chris Wallace is leaving the network after almost two decades. And then, from CNN, that Wallace is joining its forthcoming streaming service, where he’ll anchor a new weekday show as part of the slate of original programming available when CNN+ launches in early 2022.

“Eighteen years ago,” Wallace said during his goodbye on Fox News Sunday, “the bosses here at Fox promised me they would never interfere with a guest I booked or a question I asked. And they kept that promise. I have been free to report to the best of my ability, to cover the stories I think are important, to hold our country’s leaders to account.”

Added Wallace, as part of the companion announcement from CNN: “I look forward to the new freedom and flexibility streaming affords in interviewing major figures across the news landscape — and finding new ways to tell stories.”

There are, to be sure, all kinds of implications about what this means and could mean for both news networks. It’s also the kind of moment that’s a bit of a media Rorschach test, wherein observers can see … whatever they want to see. There will be some degree of opining, for example, about how Wallace’s departure for CNN (essentially Public Enemy No. 1 for some of Fox’s top-draw opinion commentators) marks one more nail in the coffin of hard news at the right-leaning network. Right on cue, The Daily Beast declared on Sunday that “Fox News is fully Tucker Carlson TV now that Chris Wallace is Gone.”

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What’s even more interesting, though, is how this is another reminder about 2022: That next year, to be more specific, is shaping up to be one of the most transformational years in memory for cable TV news. 

Setting aside the creeping influence of streaming into the operational plans of the big news networks, several high-profile departures have left some gaping holes to fill in those networks’ schedules.

  • Just in the past week, Brian Williams signed off at MSNBC for the last time — ending a 28-year relationship with the network.
  • CNN also fired Chris Cuomo, with that messy departure in recent days threatening to metastasize into a much bigger headache for the network. Both sides have lawyered up amid a rumored lawsuit from Cuomo.
  • Just a few months ago, word emerged that MSNBC’s star anchor Rachel Maddow is mulling an exit from her program next year, in tandem with taking on a different role of some sort at the network.
  • And now, the departure of Wallace. It’s a huge loss for Fox’s news side, and comes at a time when the network’s opinion programming — led by conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson — is enjoying more success than ever. Indeed, Carlson’s show alone has set multiple records, including that of being the top ratings draw in cable news history.

Having said all that, it’s anybody’s guess how exactly the major networks will fare amid all this shuffling in 2022, as they tweak programming lineups to account for the departures and try out new talent in the process. In addition to trying to pull all that off, though, there’s also the question of the degree to which streaming will impact the delivery of news from these networks.

Maddow, for her part, is probably going to step back from her primetime show and devote her energy to producing digital content for MSNBC. At a UBS conference a few days ago, meanwhile, Fox CFO Steve Tomsic said his company has no intention to de-emphasize linear pay TV in favor of a shift to streaming.

But then, he added a huge caveat.

The #1 cable news network, by a mile, is more than willing and able to flip that switch, Tomsic said, if it ever decides that the time has come to do so. “We have got all the attributes in place from a Fox News perspective, from a technology perspective, a billing and subscriber perspective, to be able to create that optionality,” he said.

For now, the company’s Fox’s Nation streaming service includes original programming from hosts like Carlson, as well as Fox News replays and an assortment of entertainment content. Fox also leaned even further into streaming this year, with the launch of Fox Weather — the network’s new 24/7, ad-supported streaming service focused exclusively on weather and climate news.

And then there’s CNN’s gambit with CNN+, with the network promising that its full programming lineup will be announced “in the weeks and months to come.”

If past is prologue, there’s at least one prediction it’s probably safe to make at this point:

However streaming changes the equation next year, and no matter how the programming schedules get shuffled, Fox’s ratings dominance isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. Election night coverage last month, in fact, showed how wide the chasm has gotten between Fox and its competition.

The ratings data for November 2, of course, showed Fox having won the battle for viewer eyeballs that night. But Figures from Nielsen MRI Fusion also showed that more prime time viewers were actually checking out The Hallmark Channel instead of watching CNN. And that the History Channel’s ratings bested CNN’s on election night, as well.

The other thing to remember about Fox is that the data shows more Democrats are watching than a lot of people realize. Not the kind of pattern that one anchor’s departure is likely to reverse, at least not by itself.

Source: Forbes

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