Newsmax, a conservative news site that specializes in media watchdogging, is turning into a full-blown cable network—or rather, a satellite network. The new net launches June 16 in DirecTV's 20 million homes, and will count nine hours of original programming—expanding to 18 by the end of December.
In an age when carriers are anxious to prove value to consumers faced with myriad subscription TV choices, the move seems wise for DirecTV. Now, in order to beef up its revenue stream, Newsmax (which has dabbled in print publishing, as well) has hired Kevin Byrnes as its new vp of sales, the company's top sales-side position.
Adweek: Tell me about the switch from nine-irons to news.
Kevin Byrnes: Well, I was at the Golf Channel for almost 10 years and then when Comcast bought NBCU, Golf was folded into NBC Sports. It's been a lot of golf, but it is media! It's been quite transferable to the situation I'm in now. It's a little older, it's a little more affluent, and some of the advertisers cross over.
What kinds of categories are you seeking first?
Financial services, travel, health and fitness—anything that would appeal to baby boomers. Pharmaceutical, exercise, wellness. It's anything, I think, that you look at from a new perspective as you get a little older and think about what's important to you.
Is it a little strange to be working for a digital company that's going linear instead of the other way around?
Everybody knows Newsmax from the website. It's been around since 1998 and has an extremely loyal and dedicated following. It's funny—it's very different for me. My background is television media sales, and this is a digital company. The DNA, the roots and the background are all digital. The whole mindset is digital, and it's about giving people what they want by looking at what people spend the most time with. On TV it's all about awareness; online it's all about response. It's been a very exciting prospect to bring that to a television network. The flow is different, programming is different, content is different, but we're very tuned into who we are and who we reach. It'll be a baby boomer network in the 45-55 sweet spot. It's I think 45 percent of the population that spends disposable income in this country.
How well did you know the property when you got the call for this job?
I had a peripheral knowledge of it from my father, who was an avid reader of the site and was sort of a typical dad, forwarding me stuff from the website. One of the first things they did from the advertiser perspective was attend the Response Expo in San Diego. It's basically a conference of the largest direct response agencies and outlets. I was amazed at the number of people I spoke to there who were aware of Newsmax.
Do you think it'll be hard to sell, given advertiser skittishness around political content? I remember Glenn Beck couldn't get arrested on TV, even though his show was doing unheard-of numbers for 5 p.m.
It's a center-right conservative website. It's not far-right. It's kind of moderate right, and that's where most people are—few people are all the way at one or the other end of the spectrum.
How would you say the content differs from, say, what's on Fox News?
We're very conscious of the fact that, from our users—and we do a lot of polling—people are really turned off by declarations that you're a conservative network or a liberal network, and the dynamic that exists where there's a lot of shrill conversation or yelling or ganging up. We're really trying to foster intelligent conversation. People are really fed up with what's going on in government right now because no answers are coming out. We have a long relationship with Bill Clinton; he's been interviewed a couple of times for the website. Alan Dershowitz is a contributor. It's about having a dialogue. We're not just a news organization—we're a lifestyle network as well.
So what would you say to advertisers who want to know what the perspective is?
When I'm talking to advertisers, I try to tell them, "We're not going to be Fox News, we're not going to be MSNBC, and we're not going to be CNN." If you have to talk about the mindset of the network at all, it should be about a network who appeals to the heartland, and not as a geographical location, but as a frame of mind. It's more of a heartland sensibility. It's not just about what's being discussed in restaurants in New York and L.A.