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?”