Although over the years Fox and O'Reilly paid $13 million to settle sexual harassment accusations from a number of women, according to a New York Times investigation, the tipping point that led to Wednesday's ouster of the talk show host was likely caused by an exodus of brand names that feared a consumer backlash.
Rem Reider, a longtime media critic and contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, says "the dramatic exodus of advertisers was really an exclamation point, even as viewership held up. It really was well past time to clean house, even if the clean-up meant the departure of such a dominant force."
"Investors don't like uncertainly or distraction," says Tuna Amobi, equity analyst with CFRA Research. "The market reaction to this is muted because there's a sense this won't be earth-shattering."
Amobi estimates that O'Reilly's long-running show, "The O'Reilly Factor," which continued to enjoy high ratings even in past weeks, brought in roughly $150 million in advertising last year, a small fraction of the $7 billion raked in by Fox News. "It's a drop in the bucket for them," he says.
The bigger liability, Amobi says, would have been keeping O'Reilly after a very public dismissal of Fox News boss Roger Ailes after he was hit with charges of sexual discrimination by Megyn Kelly and other female Fox anchors and contributors. "It was no longer just about finances, it was reputation," he says, noting that more than 60 big brands abandoned O'Reilly's show in the wake of the scandal.