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Roger Sollenberger September 17, 2020 2:06AM (UTC)

Fox News Media will lay off employees across multiple divisions as it undergoes a corporate restructuring of various lines of its business amid a profitable time for the network.

A Fox News spokesperson described the layoffs to Salon as a corporate realignment geared to "sharpen several functions" and streamline a number of its corporate divisions "in order to position all of our businesses for ongoing success.

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A person familiar with the plans told Salon that the downsizing will impact employees at all ranks, except on-air talent. While it is unclear if the layoffs will touch every department, a total of 3% of the company's workforce is likely be affected. Laid off employees will receive severance and a benefits package, the source added.

The downsizing was not related to the coronavirus pandemic, except for the department which will be hit the hardest: hair and makeup, whose job has been the most disrupted by the pandemic. About 90% of that department has not been working for months but continued to take a salary, the individual said, adding that those artists who stay on will work only with on-air talent — a service previously extended to guests.

Ironically, Fox News has turned in some of its strongest numbers during the pandemic. "Tucker Carlson Tonight," for example, drew the highest cable news ratings of all time during the widespread lockdowns from April to June.

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While it remains unclear how the network plans to invest whatever savings it accrues from the cuts, it is worth noting that the media company has expanded its offerings in recent years.

In 2018, the network launched the domestic streaming service Fox Nation, which carries content fronted by a number of Fox News hosts, as well as additional programs not available with a cable subscription.

Last month, it launched Fox News International, a new digital subscription streaming service, at $6.99 per month. The service, which streams existing Fox News content to international markets, requires minimal production overhead.

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Fox News has also reported strong advertising gains, clocking an 8.2% increase from 2019 to 2020, according to market analytics firm Kagan. (Advertisers have recently fled Carlson's show amid a series of heavily-criticized race-baiting screeds.) Network executives announced in early August that Fox Nation had more than doubled its subscriptions over the last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Taking into account the network's record-breaking success last quarter, as well as the increased consumer appetite for long-form viewing amid lockdowns, the pandemic appears to have altered consumer habits in a way which could incentivize expansion — not layoffs. As the election approaches, with key patron President Donald Trump facing long odds, the network may be bracing itself for a possible political sea change.

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Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham, for instance, reportedly has her eyes on the microphone of Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and former Sleep Number mattress advocate Rush Limbaugh if Trump comes up short in November.

"Laura's really interested in Rush's job," an individual close to Ingraham told Vanity Fair. A Trump loss may compel the Murdochs — the network's more liberal successors to the late Fox News kingpin and alleged sexual assaulter Roger Ailes — to make major changes.

Speaking privately to a group of dinner guests at the Palm Beach mansion of his widow, Elizabeth Ailes, Ingraham reportedly said she had already been in talks to take Limbaugh's place should Stage 4 lung cancer force him to hang up his mic.

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"We have to be prepared for Trump losing."


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon.

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Tags: fox news media donald trump fox news fox news international laura ingraham media politics reporting republicans roger ailes rupert murdoch tucker carlson tv roger sollenberger the network

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The U.S. entrepreneur behind Ireland's vast rural broadband plan says it's 3 years ahead of schedule

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and US business man David McCourt who leads The Irish Broadband consortium sign the National Broadband plan.Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images

DUBLIN — Ireland's 3 billion euro ($3.5 billion) plan to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband is on track to be delivered in under 10 years, according to the firm leading the rollout.

David McCourt is the chairman of National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the vehicle created by U.S. media and telecoms investment firm Granahan McCourt, which won the National Broadband Plan contract.

He told CNBC that despite some hurdles in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, the project could be completed in around seven years, under the originally slated 10 years.

The 25-year contract, which will see NBI manage the network after completion, was signed in November 2019. It brings together several firms and contractors to build the infrastructure to connect 540,000 premises (roughly 1.1 million people in a country of nearly 5 million) with high-speed broadband.

First proposed in 2012, the National Broadband Plan has been a protracted and at times controversial process.

Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and electricity utility ESB, pulled out of the bidding in 2017. Eir, Ireland's largest telco, exited in early 2018 citing "uncertainty on a range of regulatory and pricing issues."

In October 2018, Communications Minister Denis Naughten resigned over meetings with McCourt that had not been documented. An independent inquiry found that the meetings did not unduly influence the bidding process.

Ultimately the contract was awarded to National Broadband Ireland with surveying and work commencing in early 2020 — but the coronavirus lockdown disrupted that process. 

"Obviously Covid is disrupting the whole world so it would be a lie to tell you it hasn't been a pain in the neck in more ways than one," McCourt told CNBC.

Travel restrictions and social distancing made it difficult for surveyors to travel the country and work together.

"For the first 30 days that was disruptive but I think we've worked our way through that," he said.

Other companies and subcontractors involved include network operator Enet, Nokia, and telecom and construction firms Actavo, KN Group and the Kelly Group. 

Milking time at Jim O'Rourke's dairy farm at Cootehill, County Cavan in Ireland. The herd of Holstein Fresian cows produce around 160,000 gallons of milk per year which is processed into powder, butter and ice cream for export.Market demands

Work has commenced on connecting premises in the Irish counties of Galway, Cork and Cavan, with several schools now on the network.

At the start of the project, NBI stated it would connect premises at a basic speed of 150 Mbps but said in August that that would rise to 500 Mbps.

"We knew the market was going to want and demand and need higher speeds than what we were contractually obligated to deliver," McCourt said.

"When a contract spec is written, it's at one point in time and then the contract goes out to a procurement process and years pass by and the world just moves on so we knew that we were going to be way more than the minimum speed that was in the contract."

There is also the matter of competition. Eir is connecting several rural regions through its own billion-euro investment program.

Despite pulling out of the bidding process, Eir still has links to the National Broadband Plan. It has a regulated obligation to give other providers access to its infrastructure, which NBI is availing of by connecting premises via some of Eir's poles around the country.

Improvements to rural Ireland's broadband quality come at a pivotal time for remote working, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Covid has basically accelerated the world by a generation. Everything that's happening, the rural-urban divide, on a retail level and the commercial property side was going to happen eventually anyway," McCourt said.

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Poor connections outside urban areas make that shift very challenging. A survey conducted by Taxback.com found that 51% of over 2,500 respondents in the country were inhibited from working at home since March due to poor broadband quality.

Contract

At the end of the 25-year contract, the Irish state will not own the network. In August, a heavily redacted version of the National Broadband Plan contract was released to the public.

Running over 2,000 pages, the contract gave some insight into just how vast the plan is but details on subsidy payments and the nitty-gritty on operational performance were withheld.

McCourt said that many different voices are at play from either government or the companies involved on what would be released.

"I welcomed it being public. I'm not in charge of the redactions, there's lots of different people. The regulator had his or her viewpoint, I'm sure the department had their viewpoint, all the different people have their view on what is harmful to them to do their job," McCourt told CNBC.

 

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