The results are in and Bill O’Reilly’s self-proclaimed highest rated interview with President Obama ended up not even being the highest rated interview to feature President Obama, much less the highest rated interview ever. O’Reilly drew 17.3 million viewers for his sit down with Obama. This is 53 million viewers short of the record, and 8 million viewers below Obama’s post 2008 election 60 Minutes interview.
Bill O’Reilly boldly predicted that his interview with Obama would be the most watched interview in television history:
Using O’Reilly’s logic, how could it miss? America’s top conservative cable news host, from the country’s top conservative network, taking on the Democratic President of the United States, on the Super Bowl pregame show this is ratings gold. Prepare for ratings records to crumble and shudder at the power of Bill-O and Fox News.
Then reality stepped in and said not so fast Bill O’Reilly. The ratings are in and biggest political interview in history managed to only draw 17.3 million people, which is just 53 million viewers short of the record, held by Barbara Walters’ interview of Monica Lewinsky in 1999. More salt was rubbed in the O’Reilly/Fox News wound by the fact that the Super Bowl was not even Obama’s highest rated interview.
Obama’s post 2008 election interview on 60 Minutes attracted 25.1 million viewers without the help of the Super Bowl. O’Reilly did manage to beat Katie Couric’s interview with Obama before last year’s Super Bowl by almost 4 million viewers, but the most recent Super Bowl was the most watched program in television history. 111 million viewers watched the game, but not nearly as many were interested in the interview.
O’Reilly’s ratings bomb can most be put into perspective by the fact that a March 2009 interview that Obama did on 60 Minutes drew 16 million viewers, even though it was delayed for an hour by NCAA March Madness coverage on CBS. Obama drew almost as many viewers on CBS for an interview that was unexpectedly delayed as O’Reilly drew with him for an interview that aired on time as part of Fox’s Super Bowl coverage.
The O’Reilly/Obama interview was being heavily pushed by corporate Fox, which billed it as O’Reilly Vs Obama. They hyped the interview endlessly and made it one of the centerpieces of their Super Bowl pregame, but people didn’t watch. The lesson is that Fox News and Bill O’Reilly may be big fish in the small pond of cable news, but they are guppies in the sea of network TV. CBS and 60 Minutes are more powerful, in terms of drawing viewers, than Fox News and The O’Reilly Factor can hope to be. That’s the reality of cable versus broadcast.
Bill O’Reilly isn’t the star that he thinks he is, and Fox News isn’t the powerhouse that they want America to believe they are. Without all the hype and egotistical predictions, the Obama/O’Reilly interview would have been viewed as a success, but by missing the ratings record by such a large margin, it looks like a bomb.
Once again, Bill O’Reilly has shot himself in the foot by writing checks with his mouth that his ratings can’t cash. Next time Obama should go where the ratings are, and stick with 60 Minutes.