Fox News Channel essentially has this problem for Thursday’s Republican presidential debate now that Donald Trump, the leading candidate, says he won’t participate.
So does that mean those 20 million or 15 million viewer levels will evaporate? And if you are a TV marketer buying time in the big event, what are your options?
Here’s the current GOP debate Nielsen viewing scorecard since this summer: Fox News, 24 million viewers (Aug 6); CNN, 22.9 million (Sept. 16); CNBC, 14.0 million (Oct. 28); Fox Business Network, 13.5 million (Nov. 10); CNN, 18.1 million (Dec. 15); and Fox Business, 11.1 million (Jan. 14).
Trump thinks that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, a past debate moderator, doesn't treat him well -- that she has it out for him. Not only that, but Trump tweeted: “I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”
Perhaps these debates are more reality shows anyway. Drama builds. Participants get miffed. Confrontations yield even bigger, awe-inspiring results.
Marketing for Fox News? Who needs it -- when Trump is all over TV news programming -- most recently testing a NBC News reporter over a pro-abortion issue stance he made years ago.
Oh, and by the way: Trump appeared on Fox News Wednesday to talk about why he won’t appear on Fox News Thursday for the next Republican debate. Here’s what he told Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday: “I don’t like being taken advantage of. In this case, I was being taken advantage of by Fox.”
For its own part, Fox News joined the marketing party with a snarky response when told of Trump's abandonment of the debate: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president.”
Nice. What TV viewers -- especially those who watch scripted TV dramas -- don’t love snark? If you are a TV marketing executive, you are shaking your head -- and smiling: “Oh, if I could only get my reality stars to work this way!”
But just think of the build-up when Trump makes a big return for the debates on ABC, CBS, or CNN later this year. Or maybe there's another story arc waiting.
TV audiences-- and perhaps some voting citizens -- love suspense and a good plot twist.