Is it a bidding war, or just a very public exclusive contract negotiation? Megyn Kelly might not worry much about the distinction. According to Vanity Fair, Fox News has eagerly pursued a new contract with their prime-time host, as analysts predicted a hot market for Kelly and her sky-high visibility in this election cycle. According to their sources, the Murdochs have an offer “north of the $20 million per year” that Bill O’Reilly reportedly gets:
By late summer, James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch, the C.E.O. and co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, respectively, appeared hellbent on re-signing the anchor. Not only was Kelly a meaningful symbol of a post-Ailes culture within the Fox News bunker, but her ratings were also key to preserving Ailes’s estimated $1.5 billion profit machine, which the younger Murdochs were now tasked with maintaining. It didn’t seem to matter that Kelly clashed with O’Reilly, whose own contract expires at the end of 2017. It was clear that the Murdoch sons favored Kelly. They invited her to dinner parties at their homes. They seemed poised to put her on par with O’Reilly’s much larger compensation package, and possibly top his haul, which has been reported to be in the neighborhood of $20 million per year. “It was a perfect storm for her,” said a rival news executive, “and she has made the most of it.” According to multiple people familiar with the discussions, representatives for the network have offered Kelly a compensation package north of the $20 million per year.
However, the expected bidding war has thus far been a bust, perhaps because of the price:
But so far, the purported auction for Kelly’s services has not come to fruition. One CNN insider explained, “of course we would love to have her,” before noting that poaching Kelly, given the likely cost of her contract, “is not something we are seriously considering.” Instead, this person elaborated, CNN is investing more in documentary-style programming after the election. “I don’t believe anyone is pursuing her other than Fox at this point,” said one ABC insider. A source close to CBS said that they are not making an offer, either. (The person close to Kelly noted that discussions with rival executives were ongoing.)
Three thoughts come to mind here. First, Fox may be the only cable network that can afford to fill its prime-time slots with $20M+ hosts. They don’t just lead in the ratings, they dominate them, and advertisers pay to get their spots in front of the most eyeballs. Second, Fox may have just decided to get out in front first rather than wait for Kelly to test the waters, if for no other reason than to keep her happy. Plenty has already happened this year within the Fox News family to incentivize Kelly to look for greener pastures, and the quicker they close off the exits, the easier it will be to get past the previous unpleasantness.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the fallout from Roger Ailes’ scandal and departure has finally begun to settle down. The departure of their most prominent female host would undoubtedly raise eyebrows all over again, but keeping her on Fox at least offers the opportunity to demonstrate that the network has turned the corner on that era. After Greta van Susteren’s sudden exit, keeping Kelly became much more critical for that reason, among others.
Those make more sense than some of the feedback that VF got from other networks, such as that her credibility took a hit from the Trump battles over the past year. If anything, those have boosted Kelly into a formidable role as “an improbable feminist icon,” as Sarah Ellison writes, and allowed her to dominate the election cycle nearly as much as the two major-party presidential nominees. CBS and ABC lack cable channels and so don’t necessarily have an easy fit for Kelly, but CNN and MSNBC would kill for that kind of buzz. If they’re not interested, it’s because they probably can’t afford the price tag.
Last week, Boston Herald columnist Jessica Heslam pondered what Kelly might want, and where she might go. I’m quoted in the article, but the biggest takeaway is that Kelly hasn’t sent a lot of signals — and she’s definitely going to continue to make an impact.