By Helen Coster and Lisa Richwine
Jan 5 (Reuters) - As candidates face off in Georgia on Tuesday in contests that will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, another race is underway between cable news networks catering to conservative audiences.
For One America News Network (OAN) and Newsmax, the Georgia runoffs present an opportunity to capitalize on post-presidential election audience gains, which they've boosted thanks to promotion from President Donald Trump. For weeks, the outlets pushed baseless theories about election fraud in an effort to be number two behind dominant cable news channel Fox News.
The elections will allow conservative media outlets to "see and tell the next chapter in the continuing saga of Trump World and the amplifying of the right wing cause," said Frank Sesno, a former CNN correspondent and director of strategic initiatives at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.
Trump ramped up his criticism of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp -owned Fox News and began to promote Newsmax and OAN on Twitter instead, helping the two outlets to the right of Fox grow. On Dec. 30 Trump tweeted: "Watching @FoxNews is almost as bad as watching Fake News @CNN. New alternatives are developing!"
However, the president still conducted his only two post-election interviews on Fox News.
A DIVIDED CONSERVATIVE AUDIENCE
Georgia's unusual runoff for two Senate seats will determine if Republicans hold power in the chamber. OAN reporters will cover the elections from Georgia, Florida and Washington, OAN President Charles Herring said. Two of the network's reporters recently covered the Georgia races from exclusive access inside Trump's private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, Herring said.
Newsmax will feature one of its Washington-based correspondents at polling places in Georgia, and later at the headquarters of Republican candidate David Perdue, as part of its all-day coverage from the state. Commentators will include former Fox News political strategist Dick Morris and former Georgia Republican lawmaker Jack Kingston.
Fox, which has invested heavily in its own system for analyzing voting behavior, opinions and preferences, is the only one of the three networks that can make its own election projections. The network's live coverage from Georgia began Sunday and includes two nights of a two-hour special on the runoffs. Fox will air overnight election coverage from 1 a.m. until 4 a.m. EST.
Courting a divided conservative audience will be key to keeping viewers engaged after the U.S presidential election, which helped Newsmax and OAN attract record audiences. According to Nielsen data, Newsmax ended the year averaging 277,000 viewers per day in December, down from post-election peaks, but up from 60,000 before the election.
OAN President Charles Herring said the network's audience swelled by more than 40 percent in the fourth quarter over the third quarter. The network does not subscribe to Nielsen, and Reuters was unable to confirm the numbers.
Fox News' audience was far bigger, averaging 1.9 million viewers per day in 2020. While it dominated cable news in primetime, with 3.6 million viewers on average, its total day ratings have slipped below AT&T Inc's CNN since the election.
The question remains whether viewers who tune in this week will stick with the upstarts when Trump leaves office, said George Washington University's Sesno.
There will be an audience for their brand of right-wing coverage, he said. "I think the question is how large? How rapt? Does it ever get old?" (Reporting by Helen Coster in New York and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Kenneth Li and Aurora Ellis)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.