It’d solve one problem for James Murdoch if Bill O’Reilly didn’t come back from his spring vacation.

O’Reilly is the host of what remains Fox News’s most popular show, even after revelations the network and the anchor resolved sexual harassment allegations by paying his accusers a reported $13 million and dozens of advertisers pulled their spots from “The O’Reilly Factor.”’

The problem for Murdoch, 21st Century Fox Inc.’s chief executive officer, is perception — that Fox isn’t willing to jeopardize the estimated $200 million in advertising revenue the host pulls in every year by sending a message that inappropriate behavior toward women won’t be tolerated. The network has an uncomfortable track record as it is: Roger Ailes was ousted as Fox News president last year under similarly embarrassing circumstances.

“All I can say is we want it dealt with,” said Brett Harris, an analyst at Gabelli & Co., which holds millions of Fox shares. “Fox is much bigger than O’Reilly.”

Women’s advocacy groups including UltraViolet and the National Organization for Women have called for O’Reilly to be fired. The uproar is a distraction at a time when Fox is trying to secure regulatory clearance for its $14.6 billion acquisition of Sky Plc, said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research LLC who has a buy rating on Fox shares.

“Wall Street doesn’t want to have to think about this,” Wieser said. He said Fox News, which has routinely beat competitors for years, is strong enough to withstand a change in anchors. “You could probably put a monkey in the seat and as long as it spouted appropriately conservative views there would be decent ratings.”

Wieser estimates “The O’Reilly Factor” pulls in about $200 million a year in ad sales, based on the network’s total revenue. He has been cutting back on his schedule however, with Friday’s now described as “The Friday Factor” with alternating hosts.

Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary, rated No. 1 in total viewers with 2.8 million on Wednesday, her first night standing in for O’Reilly, according to Nielsen data cited by Fox. She didn’t beat his ratings from last week.

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SOURCE: Anousha Sakoui