Fox News is facing what appears to be a growing advertiser boycott of its top-rated show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” after news broke that host Bill O’Reilly was the subject of five sexual-harassment cases launched by former staff.
Mercedes-Benz pulled its ads from the Fox News show on Monday as a result of the allegations, and two other major automotive brands announced similar moves on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Mercedes said Monday that because of the “disturbing allegations” against the Fox News host, the luxury car maker had decided that The O’Reilly Factor was not “a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”
Hyundai told CNN that while it didn’t currently have ads running on the show, it had taken steps to ensure that future ads wouldn’t appear there. And on Tuesday, BMW announced it would also be removing its ads from the program.
A New York Times report published on the weekend found that Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox and Bill O’Reilly paid out a total of $13 million to settle harassment cases launched by five women since 2002.
The money was paid “in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations” against O’Reilly, the Times report said. The Fox News host has said that the accusations are untrue, but neither he nor 21st Century Fox have denied making the payments.
“We had advertising running on The O’Reilly Factor, and it has been reassigned,” Mercedes-Benz spokesperson Donna Boland told CNN. “Given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment.”
Hyundai said it would not run ads that were planned for the show because of the “recent and disturbing allegations,” and that it would continue to “monitor and evaluate the situation” as it planned future advertising decisions.
Another car maker, Lexus, told CNN: “We take our duties as a responsible advertiser seriously, and seek to partner with organizations who share our company culture and philosophy of respect for all people. We will continue to monitor the situation and will take any appropriate action.”
Unless it grows significantly, however, the advertiser boycott is unlikely to make a dent in the show’s profitability. According to recent estimates, The O’Reilly Factor generated almost half a billion dollars in ad revenue between 2014 and 2016.
This helps explain why Fox News recently extended O’Reilly’s contract (which was set to expire this year) despite the multiple allegations against him. According to the New York Times, the Fox host makes about $18 million per year.
Industry insiders say while major brands may pull their ads from specific shows that are caught up in controversy, they usually return once the public furor has died down, especially if those shows have high ratings.
So far, multiple sexual-harassment cases involving the network don’t seem to have put much of a dent in its viewer numbers. In addition to the O’Reilly allegations, Fox has also been dealing with the fallout from harassment allegations involving former chairman Roger Ailes, who left the network last year.
The U.S. Attorneys Office is reportedly investigating whether Fox News properly disclosed the payments it made to settle cases launched against Ailes over the years.
Just last week, numbers from audience-measurement firm Nielsen Research showed that O’Reilly pulled in more viewers than any other cable news program in history. That helped Fox News clinch the top spot for most-watched cable news network for the 61st quarter in a row. The network even beat out non-news programming such as ESPN.
On Monday, Fox News sent a memo to employees telling them to report any inappropriate behavior to the human resources department or network executives. The network’s new head of human resources said he wanted to reiterate this message “in light of some of the accounts published over the last few days.”