On Wednesday, former Fox News firebrand Tucker Carlson broke his silence in a video posted to Twitter. Though the production values could be described as sparse at best, and it almost appears as if Carlson recorded the segment in his sauna – a point noted by Seth Meyers on Thursday’s Late Night – it managed to greatly exceed the three million viewers his prime-time show on the cable news channel averaged each night.
As of Friday afternoon, the two-minute and sixteen-second video was seen nearly 75 million times. In fact, it had racked up 1.7 million views just within the hour after it was posted. Clearly, many have tuned in to see if Carlson would respond to his firing from Fox News, as well as to hear what his next move might be.
“Tucker Carlson already has a loyal following on Twitter. Those who retweet and like content from his now-former Fox News program will continue to share it,” said Jason Mollica, professorial lecturer and program director in the School of Communication at American University.
The video was largely sparse on actual substance, but it could be argued it was tailor-made for social media.
The controversial host addressed that there are “things you notice when you take a little time off,” even though he had only been off the air since Friday. He further argued that “big topics get virtually no discussion” on TV, but a question could be asked whose fault that actually is – notably given that he did have a nightly TV show since 2015.
More Than Curiosity
Though many of the millions of views were likely from those who never, or at least rarely, watched his show; the fact that the clip has been seen so many times actually speaks as much to Twitter’s reach as Carlson’s.
“This is a great example of the power of algorithms. Most of the social media algorithms are designed to increase a person’s time on the site,” explained Dr. Cliff Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
“For something like the Carlson video, the attention of his core audience will shape how the algorithm sees the content,” added Lampe.
“It will interpret a sudden burst of attention from the video as being of interest to others, and showing it to people who might not follow Carlson normally,” Lampe continued. “This is the basic hack of vitality, which was fueled in this case by people likely being curious about the message since the media had been talking about his dismissal all week.”
Can We Expect More Carlson Content?
Until this week, Carlson’s account had essentially promoted segments and commentary from those primetime and Fox Nation shows. Yet, he still has 6.7 million followers on Twitter.
“Carlson had a fixed cable audience demographic, which played into Fox News Channel’s high numbers,” said Mollica.
It may not be so easy for Carlson to have the same reach that he had with a prime-time show – even if the numbers from one video suggest otherwise.
“On Twitter he can reach a bigger audience with no guarantees. Yes, he will still be able to share his rhetoric. But, the audience is much different on Twitter than on cable,” explained Mollica.
Follow The Numbers
No doubt the mentions by Seth Meyers may have attracted a number of viewers, while many of his detractors also may have simply viewed the video to see how the mighty had fallen.
“Despite his video getting high view, it doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Mollica. “For example, using Meltwater, a social media intelligence platform, it showed Carlson was mentioned in tweets over 87 thousand times – between midnight Thursday, April 27 and noon April 28.”
Moreover, 75 million views on Twitter may not exactly equal three million on Fox News. It is also very unlikely that if Carlson continues to post such videos, he can continue to reach such a sizable audience.
“While social networks are places to sustain and strengthen your audience, consistency is key,” Mollica continued.
Thus the question now is what will Carlson’s Twitter strategy be, and could he integrate his social posts with a podcast? Or could he land on a rival news network? Even a lesser established news channel could present greater opportunities than tweeting from the sauna.
“TV may not be what it was years ago, but it is still an important piece in the puzzle,” said Mollica. “For Carlson, he had an audience awaiting him during his timeslot. Social media users aren’t always waiting because they want/need the information now.”