In the days following Glenn Beck’s announcement of his intention to “transition off” of his daily Fox News program, part of the buzz around Beck has been the possibility of him launching his own cable network. That buzz was intensified last month by Beck's hiring of former Fox television executive Joel Cheatwood to help run his Mercury Radio Arts production company.
But is a Beck channel even feasible? With little room on the cable roster for a new channel, a ground-up operation would be difficult. To run his own network, Beck would have to commandeer a preexisting channel, as Oprah Winfrey’s OWN did via its takeover of Discovery Health.
“I think it’s much easier to rebrand an existing, struggling network than it is to start your own,” said Richard Greenberg, a media analyst with BTIG, who believes that there are “lots of small, struggling networks” that could be fair game for a takeover. “I think obviously someone needs to help the funding,” Greenberg adds, “so the question will be whether there’s a partner the way Oprah took on a partner in Discovery or whether it’s going to be a smaller, more niche channel backed by the content owners themselves.”
With full distribution difficult to come by, though, the OWN approach might not be realistic either. "I think it’s probably impractical to think that Glenn Beck is going to be able to take over a beachfront property kind of channel with relatively full distribution,” RBC analyst David Bank said. “I think it’s too expensive a proposition.” In addition, Beck would have trouble providing a full day’s programming. Instead of a 24-hour channel, Bank suggests that Beck could follow the model of Martha Stewart and the Hallmark Channel, partnering with a network to provide several hours per day of programming rather than a 24/7 schedule.
Because of existing distribution fees that come with any network, said Bank, “you become reliant, unless you’ve got deep pockets, on advertising revenue.” Since numerous advertisers have already pulled out of Beck’s current show on Fox in response to his controversial statements, that presents problems for any full-time channel. "I think he probably could get by without a lot of the major advertisers who are boycotting his show [in part of the day]," added Bank. "I think the bigger question is, is there an advertising base to fill 24 hours a day of programming?”
Faced with these hurdles, both analysts suggest that Beck might be better off opting for a different media platform. “I think it’s a real long shot to think he could take over a network that is fully distributed in a traditional sense as opposed to some sort of smaller hybrid, not fully distributed cable network and then have an online complement,” said Bank.
Beck could even wind up giving up TV and going completely digital. “Maybe he moves to the Internet and doesn’t do traditional television,” said Greenberg. “I think it’s to be determined.”