Last week saw the launch of TalkTV, Rupert Murdoch’s new far-right news channel, although I’m sure it would describe itself as ‘moderate’ and ‘merely straight-talking’. Like GB News before it, TalkTV promises to be anti-woke, to upset the snowflakes and generally court controversy. What this actually means—beyond being contrived, reactionary and pretending to be critical of the government while generally supporting their politics—is anyone’s guess.
The big launch event was Piers Morgan’s exclusive and groundbreaking interview with Donald Trump, one that had been repeatedly teased over Twitter with insinuations—rebuffed by the former US President—that he had walked out, something Morgan is perhaps more famous for.
I have to admit, I haven’t seen the interview. I didn’t think it would present anything new but, rather, be a mutual ego-stroking with some supposedly provocative questions and vague, incoherent answers. I do know, thanks to coverage elsewhere, that they managed to chat about a mutual fascination: Meghan Markle, who apparently lives rent-free in both of their minds.
Morgan—and the rest of the team from TalkTV—were keen to compare their viewing figures to the same slots on Sky News and the BBC News channel. Compared to BBC News at 10 or Channel 4 News, however, or magazine news shows on any of the terrestrial channels, the numbers pale in comparison. BBC News got 2.7 million, ITV averaged 1.6 million, and Channel 4 reached over 700,000.
Gary Lineker—who regularly engages in Twitter spats with Morgan—was quick to point this out, and his tweet proved far more successful, too. Despite 7.9 million followers, Morgan often gets just a few hundred interactions with his tweets. I’m sure he blames the algorithm and celebrates Elon Musk’s anticipated and imminent anti-woke reworking, whatever that might entail.
By the second half of Morgan’s interview with Trump, the channel had lost around half its viewers. And Piers Morgan Uncensored had, by Wednesday 27 April, lost half again, peaking at only 123,000 viewers. Producer and author Richard Osman pointed out that a repeat of Flog It! at 5:15 pm on BBC One got 560,000 viewers.
Positive coverage was almost exclusively from right-wing outlets, including other Murdoch-owned UK newspapers such as The Times. And while the Trump interview spawned a number of clickbait news articles, the major headlines and front-page splashes were from The Sun, another Murdoch outlet.
And what about TalkTV’s major rival, GB News? The launch was, undeniably, much more successful, with no technical hiccups and a production value in keeping with the intended brand. The comparisons have already come thick and fast, too. With the exception of Morgan’s 8 pm to 9 pm slot, though, GB News remained ahead in terms of viewing figures on TalkTV’s opening night, with almost three times as many viewers between 9 pm and 10 pm.
Should GB News be worried? I think so. However, when the presenters and so-called talent behind each channel argue online and take cheap shots at one another on social media, they’re clearly showing that they are fighting for the same, limited audience. Julia Hartley-Brewer, Piers Morgan, Richard Tice, Nigel Farage, Dan Wootton, Neil Oliver—they are all largely indistinguishable in their opinions and political affiliations. And GB News has been haemorrhaging its top tier talent for months now since Andrew Neil quit acrimoniously.
Or might the two coexist peacefully? For example, how many people read both The Sun and The Daily Mail, online at least? (Incidentally, Morgan used to write for the latter and now writes for the former, also owned by Murdoch.) People will surely pick and choose, but will this be enough for self-sustaining ad revenue, which both channels rely upon?
Media analysts at Enders Analysis have said that the channel’s future is already financially uncertain, noting that TalkTV is “unlikely to achieve the viewing levels required for stand-alone profitability in the midterm” but with influence, thanks to social media, that is “disproportionate to its viewing levels.” Will syndication and YouTube adverts end up subsidising the primary outlet? Additional viewings slowly racked up on YouTube, social media, and internationally—with the same show, Piers Morgan Uncensored, also broadcast in the US on Fox Nation.
An exclusive interview with a former president of the US averaged only 317,000 live viewers. Surely by any sensible metric, that would be considered a failure. That works out as a 2 per cent share of all television viewing. The audience peaked at 397,000, with many merely curious and, it would seem, unconvinced by the new offering.
Live broadcast TV seems like an inopportune model for their aims, yet this is precisely where these channels have decided to locate themselves. Is it simply that those at the helm believe in the old fashioned value and status of broadcast media? They seem determined to take on BBC News, but who fastidiously watches their dedicated news channel? Isn’t it mainly for waiting rooms? Neither channel will ever get close to BBC News at Six or Question Time, so why waste so much money trying?
Is this going to be the British Fox News? No, I don’t think that’s possible. Can an ouroboros of outrage really sustain itself? And where next, after interviewing a president who seems unlikely to return? I doubt Obama would be interested. As Charlie Higson noted, how will they top such a booking, “to keep up those figures surely you’re going to have to keep getting bigger and bigger stunt names in to interview. Who have you got lined up next? God?”
Let me start by clarifying one thing: I’m fully aware of the fact that you don’t actually need another reason to boycott the annual two weekend-long, infamous carnage of a festival that is Coachella. From the part it played in the rise of cultural appropriation in festival fashion and beauty to more recently being compared to Fyre Festival (no less), the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is no stranger to controversy. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the unavoidable celebrity drama it leads to every year—though, admittedly, I’m here for it most of the time, this year, witnessing Timothée Chalamet snogging a yet to be named lady has proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But I digress.
We’re not here to speak about Lil Timmy Tim’s love life—if you are, please feel free to slide into my DMs—we’re on a mission to unveil what is probably Coachella’s most problematic aspect, its very owner, American billionaire and openly homophobic businessman Philip Anschutz.
Known as “the man who owns Los Angeles,” Anschutz is, you guessed it, an old white man who was born wealthy and proceeded to make even more money for himself. Born in 1939 to a Kansas family, Anschutz first followed in his father’s footsteps as a land operator and oilman before investing in railroads, telecommunications, newspapers and entertainment. With an estimated $11 billion fortune, one of his many assets is one of the world’s best-attended and most profitable music events, Coachella.
Through his company the Anschutz Corporation, and one of its subsidiaries, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the billionaire also operates more than 90 clubs and theatres around the world and produces or supports more than 25 music festivals. Oh, and the man also owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a one-third stake of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, as well as both teams’ home arena, the Crypto.com Arena (formerly and colloquially known as the Staples Center).
As previously mentioned, Anschutz has been a billionaire for a long time. In fact, according to Business Insider, he’s one of only two people who’ve made the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans every year since the first version was published in 1982. But it comes as no surprise that billionaires have shady beliefs and hobbies.
In April 2018, Cara Delevingne shared on Instagram a message explaining why she had decided to boycott the festival despite previously saying that Beyoncé’s “iconic” headline performance had left her speechless. She wrote, “I still refuse to go to a festival that is owned by someone who is anti-LGBT and pro-gun.”
In response to the model’s remarks, AEG released a statement saying it “wholeheartedly” supports the LGBT community. Anschutz himself went on to express “regret” if any money given to charities “may have worked against these values.”
“That was not my intention, it does not reflect my beliefs, and I am committed to making sure it does not happen again,” he stated.
The accusations—which Anschutz has kept on denying ever since—relate to payments made to hard-line conservative religious and political groups across the US through his charitable foundation. These include allegedly supporting: anti-gay laws, same-sex marriage opposition and pro-gun support.
According to US campaign group Freedom For All Americans, Anschutz gave £35,000 to the National Christian Foundation (NCF) between 2011 and 2013. NCF is known to fund a lot of the groups aggressively working to chip away at the equal rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
The FADER also detailed alleged payments made by Anschutz to a number of hard-line conservative politicians. This included a payment of £1,900 to Republican Scott Tipton, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion, in October 2017.
Last but not least, the same investigation also alleged that in March 2018, Anschutz gave £3,780 to Senator Cory Gardner, a vocal pro-gun advocate. Following the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, Gardner came out against gun control. “This is a tragedy, if you’re trying to politicise it, or if anyone is trying to politicise it, then shame on them,” he told TIME.
In January 2018, the pro-legalisation publication Freedom Leaf reported that the Anschutz Foundation had handed over more than $200,000 to fund anti-marijuana efforts in Colorado as recently as 2016.
Under pressure from all these accusations, which were clearly bad for business, Anschutz made a $1 million donation to the Elton John AIDS Foundation which, among other things, provides help and protection to sexual minorities. Yet just a few months later, he was found once again to have made significant donations to evangelical institutions promoting LGBTQ+ discrimination, such as Colorado Christian University (CCU), whose charter states that “no one shall teach, defend, support or condone homosexuality.”
Since then, Anschutz has had to remain as discreet as possible in order to not overshadow the festival. According to Bloomberg, he has only ever given two public press conferences in his career. But, as Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser described in the Los Angeles Times in 2006, Anschutz is still “the man behind the curtain pulling the levers. Nobody sees him, yet he has a huge impact on Los Angeles.”