TalkTV's First Week
The road to building a compelling brand
I’m intrigued by the Talk TV launch. News UK have taken the output of their digital radio station - Talk Radio - and used that for the basis of a new TV channel. The TV investment comes in prime time where they, currently, have three shows - a news programme with Tom Newton-Dunn at 7pm, a Sharon Osborne-led panel show at 9pm and their big signing Piers Morgan at 8pm.
As part of the launch the Talk Radio output has had a bit of a tidy up, with a re-jig of the presenters and a refreshed look.
For Piers Morgan, his TV show is also syndicated to Sky News Australia and Fox News’ streaming service - Fox Nation - as well as now appearing on what was Talk Radio.
I say what was, as the branding of the radio station is still a little confused. It seems to be referenced on-air by the presenters as “Talk TV from the Talk Radio studios”, in the jingles as Talk Radio, but also lots of Talk TV references too. As part of the re-launch the radio station has lost its website and had its social media rolled into Talk TV’s too.
For the radio station there’s a core gamble - will giving up the control to be subsumed into a new TV brand generate more awareness and audience than going alone? Or will the TV elements turn off the radio listeners?
I think all the constituent parts of Talk TV are pretty good. The radio has been visualised for a couple of years now, so they’re pretty well-practiced. The combination of Zoom’d in guests plus regular phone-in callers means the output is pretty content-rich. The new TV shows - Tom Newton-Dunn’s The News Desk, Piers Morgan Uncensored and The Talk with Sharon Osborne are well produced, easily outshining what something like GB News is doing.
The challenge for the TV channel is defining what it’s there to do, and who it’s for. The News Desk is solid and it has a good story count. Tom Newton-Dunn, without much hosting experience, comes across assured with gravitas, and as he gets more comfortable will likely relax into it and ‘own’ the programme more.
It does though lean into its own journalism (or that of its sister newspapers and radio stations) and that does question whether you’re watching the ‘real’ news or not. On the first day, a version of The Sun’s “Prince Andrew Lunged at Me” interview played out - something no other outlet chose to report on.
The Talk, notionally a Sharon Osborne fronted show is a little odd. Sharon seems to have a carer each night who does most of the difficult TV bits and is then dragged into the discussion at junctions. The rest of the panel rotates.
Sharon didn’t quite make a week as she had to return to LA to look after Ozzy who’d contracted COVID. When Vanessa Feltz covered it had far more zing.
In the US Fox News has The Five, a very successful panel programme - a big part the appeal comes from fixed characters who appear most nights. With rotating hosts its hard to care what their opinions are as you may never see them again.
In their prime slot is Piers Morgan. I think the clever thing about Piers is that with his editorial background, he’s pretty good at finding the right angles for stories, deciding when to go with the majority, or against it. He’s a controversialist, a personality and generates a response (good or bad) from the audience. A Marmite character like Piers has much more chance of ratings success than a vanilla one.
However, his success on GMB was also down to having a foil in the form of his co-host Susanna Reid. GMB, like radio, has learned that on breakfast shows having a cast of characters who different audience members can back, can be very useful, and keeps a whole family tuned in. Marmite personalities on their own can draw people in, but they’re easy to switch off too.
Watching his first week, I think there’s elements of gold, but what’s interesting is when he gets into specific subjects. The rallying against the woke brigade etc just gets a little repetitive.
What I was surprised by, again, was some of the story choices. We had about three mins on Disney’s (minor) campaigning against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida including a follow-up 5mins on it with US right-wing commentator Megyn Kelly. This is a very culture-wars topic, relatively complex to understand if you’re new to it, and something that hasn’t really cut across to the UK.
Similarly there was a chunk of Piers’ Trump interview about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Now as a tactic for engaging with the orange-one I can see why you would bring it up, but it was referenced again a few times in the week.
Perhaps it’s there to appeal to the US audience, but it shows up part of the tension of that show in having to appeal to multiple territories. When interviewed, Piers said that many stories, because of Twitter, are much more internationalised and therefore relevant to everyone. I’m not so sure.
The first week of ratings I don’t think would have surprised anyone. A strong-ish start, driven by Piers and then a drop over the week. The true thing is understanding where the base for the TV channel is, and that might take a few weeks.
As is the case now, digital numbers are squawked about:
Already as a radio-TV hybrid, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with News UK thinking about all the different touch points for their material. Indeed, the idea of ‘Talk’ being a content creation engine (as well as cross-promoter) is a sensible one. What it lacks at the moment is a real digital operation to support the material that it’s generating.
There’s some social clips, and YouTube catch-up, but if the desire is for the brand to be owning part of the zeitgeist, it needs to have a better way of flagging up what its doing. A content website would be a good start.
There’s a good three-part investigation into Tucker Carlson, and what has led to his success in the NY Times. Much of it is pretty depressing, but there is a good insight into how Fox News thinks about its brand and content. It has a very analytics-driven approach, looking at the minute-by-minute ratings and what resonates and particularly uses its own news-making content as features on other shows. In fact they have a whole department - Fox News Flash - that turns these stories into articles and social. Alongside this post-game content, there’s a planning producer looking over show content to help better create storylines across their main shows. You don’t have to agree with what they do, to understand the benefits of some of their structure and strategy.
One of the main challenges that radio, and TV channels like this face, is that the focus is on making the output and ensuring there is some - 24 hours a day! The hamster wheel means that the right amount of effort isn’t put into making the content travel or to turn occasional viewers into fans of the whole station.
As Talk TV settles down to what will initially be low ratings, the question will be whether it can rise to the challenge of both making and marketing its content and creating a coherent brand across the schedule. Can it create passionate viewers/listeners and extract maximum benefit from the efforts it’s putting in?
Useless Digital Operators, Part 3
News from Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman as Facebook’s pulling its podcast integration. It didn’t manage a year.
It’s something I’d written about last year where I finished by saying:
Like anything, success is in the execution. I’m yet to be persuaded Facebook will get the execution right. I guess we’ll see.
I think it’s a shame that they couldn’t get it together. Facebook would have been a great place to reach non-podcast listeners, particularly older ones.
A really good episode of The Media Podcast this week. I catch-up with The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson and City University emeritus professor Lis Howell to talk about the misogyny in the Westwood and Angela Rayner stories. Great insights from both, including Jim’s time in the parliamentary lobby. I also talk to journalist James Ball about Elon Musk’s Twitter take-over and free-speech. Have a listen.