Inside Fox News’ Pitch: Leader Keeps Its Story Brief

Paul Rittenberg, executive VP for ad sales at Fox News, is trying to keep his upfront pitch to about 25 minutes.

“I started life as an ad agency person,” Rittenberg says, explaining his effort not to occupy too much of media buyers’ time when they’ve got so many presentations to sit through.

Instead of holding a big glitzy event, Fox News is planning to do presentations to small groups, even one on one. “We may or may not have T-shirts to give to people once they sit through it, but other than that, we’re not big on tchotchkes,” he says.

Coincidentally, the amount of time Fox News is asking clients to pay attention to its spiel is surprisingly similar to the average length of time a viewer spends tuned in to Fox News Channel: 24 minutes for adults 25-54, most among the cable news network competition. “We stand out from our competitors in a number of ways, but probably the most important is length of tune,” Rittenberg says, because the longer viewers tune in, the more likely they are to see and recall commercials.

With Fox News Channel being No. 1 in its field since 2002, Rittenberg has had gaudy numbers to flash at media buyers for years. “We don’t really get into the competition much, other than saying on any demo that any particular advertiser cares about, we almost always deliver more than that of our two main competitors combined,” he says.

So how will this year’s pitch be different? “The message is primarily our new schedule and the fact that it’s working,” Rittenberg says. “We aren’t resting on our laurels. We made some changes and they all pretty much worked.” Rittenberg will bring a couple of his TV sales guys, plus some of his digital sales execs. “It’s 95% the television sales pitch. We talk about multiple-screen opportunities but these days there’s always a question about social media or TV Everywhere, and it’s good to have one of my digital people there to answer them. You need to be under 35 or probably 30 to handle most of those,” he says.

A lot of the pitch is about the network’s new schedule and talent. “We’re going to talk about Megyn Kelly’s show and the fact that it gave a jolt of energy to our primetime. And Maria Bartiromo signing on,” he says. “We talk a lot to advertisers about sponsorship opportunities at Fox & Friends, so we mention that Elisabeth Hasselbeck has brought some younger viewers to the show and more female viewers.”

Because those anchors are pretty busy on the air, they won’t be pulled into many advertiser meetings, but they have made videos for Rittenberg highlighting their personalities.

Getting to the Point: Well-Taken

Media buyers are busy as well, and they appreciate the brevity of Fox news’ pitch. “There’s no obligation for them to bring breakfast or lunch if he’s going to keep it under 25 minutes,” says Harry Keeshan, executive VP, national broadcast at media agency PHD. “They are clearly the leader right now and it’s certainly one of the choices that clients should be looking at. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to be resting on that. They’re signing new talent. They still have their foot on the gas.”

Fox News also plans to push the live nature of its viewership, which makes sports, and to a lesser extent news, attractive to advertisers. As for social media, Rittenberg says Fox News’ audience is engaged and enjoys providing feedback via Twitter and the like. “How we make that work for advertisers and monetize it is still an open question,” he says. “My boss [Fox News chairman Roger Ailes] is very clear, you don’t want to slice the apple too many different ways. You don’t want to have a screen that looks like NASCAR when you’re really just trying to get your audience to respond to things. It’s not always a sponsorship opportunity if you want to keep them engaged.”

Last year was a rough one for the news business, with overall cable news ad revenue down for 2013. Fox News Channel was down in the fourth quarter, but posted a 4.5% gain in ad revenue for the year, according to SNL Kagan. At this point Rittenberg feels pretty good about the upfront. “In the first quarter, we’re pacing at a pretty high single-digit increase, which for us is a fair amount of money. Next quarter is looking pretty good. We haven’t had any options dropped,” he says. “I’m very comfortable, since we’re more than half of it, in saying it’s going to be up in ’14,” he says.


Railroad company Norfolk Southern has signed up as multiscreen sponsor of Fox News’ election night coverage.

Paul Rittenberg, executive VP for ad sales at Fox News, says he’d like to sell one or two more election sponsorships. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Infiniti was a sponsor, and the network is talking to a number of automakers now, he says.

“We do reduced commercial loads on election night, and for Bret Baier’s show [Special Report] we might do a single sponsor,” he says. The midterm elections should help drive ratings and revenue for the network. “It’s a big deal for us and it’s conveniently placed in the middle of the fourth quarter, where you like to generate incremental revenue, and I’m pretty sure we will,” Rittenberg says.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.