GB News - Pretending For Real

How to build a right-wing business

It’s not often you get a month-long preview of a radio station before it launches, but we certainly have with GB News.

If you didn’t know, as well as launching as a TV channel, the new ‘news’ channel GB News is also going to be broadcasting on the radio too - they announced they’ve snagged a slot on Digital One.

There’s some confusion about whether it’s going to be a feed of the TV channel, or something more. My take is that whilst ‘the TV feed’ will make up a decent part of it, I’d expect there to be some radio specific programming in time too.

Running an audio feed from a telly channel isn’t something new. ITN did it, simulcasting the TV news channel they used to have, as does Bloomberg. Yes, there’s a bit of ‘as you can see’n that slips through, but for people who understand what it is they’re listening to, I don’t think it’ll be that much bother. For GB News it’ll also help that they’re very much a comment channel than a news one. It’ll probably fit the radio quite well.

I remained pretty intrigued by the whole operation. I feel it is a little like a hall of mirrors, with many of the announcements not massively connected to the reality of what it’s doing.

It’s almost impossible to build a channel of any real scale with a right of centre news commentary format. The regular news channels are poorly watched and they’re designed to appeal to everyone. They also occupy a role. When breaking news is needed people know where to turn. They’re also multi-platform news providers, with well-funded reporting across TV, the web and social. GB News doesn’t really have much reporting resource and will mainly take agency feeds, aided by a handful of reporters to provide colour from across the UK. The idea that GB News can occupy a news position is wishful thinking, and I’d assume they know that.

Yesterday, I had a good read of lots of the tweets about the channel. For the supporters as well as disappointment about the lighting and sound (which I assume will be fixed at some point) there were quite a few who felt starved of having a news bulletin at the top of the hour.

According to BARB the audience were male (57%), 65+ (52%) and upmarket (82% ABC1). It’s basically the Daily Telegraph on-air. Online, supporters tend to be anti-lockdown, vaccine-questioning (if not hesitant), pro-Brexit, anti-take a knee, anti-woke (though this mainly reads as a reboot of ‘political correctness gone mad’). There also seems to be a decent chunk of importing US political positions - ‘owning the libs’, BLM’s a terrorist organisation and such.

Creating a media product targeting this group isn’t a bad idea. This is an audience who cannot understand why their obviously correct views are not parroted on the mainstream media. The obvious answer being that there isn’t a huge silent majority, there’s just a much smaller subset of the population that share their views. Making a media product that pretends this view is representative is canny marketing to that group.

In the US much of Fox News’ success has come from radicalising the right-wing viewer and creating a raging soap opera that keeps them tuned in. Many of the Fox news team don’t believe what they’re peddling - they’ve just created a content offer and a target audience. It’s no surprise that Fox’s legal defence over some Tucker Carlson statements was that no reasonable viewer would believe what he was saying.

Of course, blended into the product concept are true believers and also corporate narratives. As Rutger Bregman memorably said to Tucker (in an unaired interview) that the Fox hosts are merely millionaires paid by billionaires - doing their bidding.

Andrew Neil’s positioning as an anti-establishment outsider is pretty hilarious for a man who edited the Sunday Times, helped launched Sky News, is involved in magazines like The Spectator and lives in the South of France! But it is a well-trodden route, see Donald ‘man of the people’ Trump.

The outsider audience is happy to project their hopes onto professional flag-wavers under the hope they’ll lead their revolution. The truth being that they have their own agenda, and riding on the back of the true believers is just handy for them.

Much has been made of the owners of GB News - all non UK folk who have an ideological and generally broader business reason (low-tax marketing, influence-peddling) motive.

No one is more aware of this than Dan Wootton, who has clearly seen Tucker Carlson’s act and has realised the benefits of taking on the persona. It’s hard not to think that Dan believes his success in showbiz reporting has never been rightly rewarded. He’s never been well-liked by the media and talking to those who’ve worked with him, his handle on the issues is somewhat thin.

However, 20 years at The Sun has certainly taught him something about angles and doubling down. He has very little to lose, and lots to gain, by becoming King of the silent majority and is not worried about trying to play the nuance that the clearly brighter Piers Morgan does.

This though, is likely to be what causes the problem for the channel.

Watching the opening night and Andrew Neil’s GB News manifesto, Jim Waterson nailed it pretty well:

If you’re in the pro-facts, soft right-wing camp of Andrew Neil, Alastair Stewart and Simon McCoy it will just get more and more uncomfortable sharing studio space with the professional trolls. Plus if you’re someone like Kirsty Gallacher with a hope to actually have a career after this, they’ll likely be a creeping worry as time moves on.

All the Fox News staffers know that they’re unemployable by any other channel, so they take the higher salaries for as long as they can. I’d imagine it’ll be the same with GB News. I just worry that many of the presenters haven’t realised this yet.

As a business though, there’s something in super-serving this Telegraph-esque audience with TV output alongside a likely optional subscription membership operation. That, allied with the corporate benefits is probably enough for the rich owners.

It also exists at the centre of a perfect rage-generating social media machine. The lovers and haters will fight constantly, revved up by constant new TV-derived clips. This, will keep the station talked about even if it lacks any real scale of audience. It just needs to keep the outrage up, whilst creaming off enough people to pay a tenner a month for total access to Dan Wootton and Andrew Neil. Well the GB News version of them anyway.

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