That’s the idea put forward in David Carr’s Media Equation column on Monday, titled “The Fading Power of Beck’s Alarms.” Beyond being a very fair look at Beck, six months after his “Restoring Honor” rally peak, Carr also gets to be the first big voice to tease a break-up between Beck, the “conservative Jeremiah and talk-radio phenomenon,” and the biggest cable network doing it, as the host’s contract approaches its end in December. Sure that’s nine months away, but the speculation is a conversation starter, especially considering that Beck “has lost over a third of his audience on Fox” since last summer and as a result, Fox is “contemplating life without” him. But this is how bargaining works and both of these sides want to make money.
Carr is careful to point out that Beck “still has numbers that just about any cable news host would envy and, with about two million viewers a night, outdraws all his competition combined.” And likely because of how well he actually performs, all criticism from the Fox News side is anonymous.
So understanding what’s at play — eventually contract negotiations — Beck’s team makes their case too, albeit also anonymously:
On the other side, people who work for Mr. Beck point out that he could live without Fox News. Unlike some other cable hosts, Mr. Beck has a huge multiplatform presence: he has sold around four million books, is near the top of talk-radio ratings, has a growing Web site called The Blaze, along with a stage performance that still packs houses. Forbes estimated that his company, Mercury Radio Arts, had more than $30 million in revenue.
The push and pull, Carr writes, is none too surprising because Beck and the network “were never great friends to start with: Mr. Beck came to Fox with a huge radio show and had been on CNN Headline News, so he did not owe his entire career to Fox and frequently went off-message.” As pointed out at Yahoo’s The Cutline, this battling has been happening since at least August of 2009.
This latest Times piece is most interesting in its criticisms of Beck, noting that his show “has turned into a serial doomsday machine that’s a bummer to watch,” with Beck looking “like he’s a little tired of the game.”
Still, what goes more or less unsaid is that all of the anonymous talk of a Beck and Fox split comes down almost entirely to the bottom line. As perhaps the most valuable all-around weapon for the network, Fox has to at least bluff like they don’t want him, especially at this early date, lest Beck drive his price tag sky-high when it comes to re-signing. Beck, similarly, has to show no fear of striking out on his own, making retention more expensive.
So for all the bluster, possibly the most important part of Carr’s analysis of Beck is sandwiched in the middle, when Beck is quoted from his Wednesday show:
“Two years ago, I was on a cable channel that no one was watching at the time, doing a show that no one was watching, and I was about to leave television. And then I had the opportunity to come and work here,” he said. “If you’re going to do news or commentary, the only place, I think in the world, the only place that really makes an impact is Fox.”
Again, it’s early yet, but that makes it sound like he’s not going anywhere, with both sides’ stubbornness likely to fade in the coming seasons, as the sunshine illuminates the dollar signs in the distance.