There is a lot of speculation that Donald Trump, should he lose the election, is going to set up his own television channel. Evidence is building that this is at least being considered. There is logic to it, and Trump is surrounding himself with people who know how to pull it off.
Roger Ailes, who developed Fox News, is advising Trump. His campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, headed Breitbart News and made his fortune producing movies and documentaries. And his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, owns the New York Observer. There are reports Kushner is already investigating the process to start a channel. Trump has a good staff already on hand to start a network.
What would Trump TV look like?
My guess is that it would be an attack machine, something that would make Fox News look positively liberal. The channel could get Trump the opportunity to operate a “shadow presidency” and respond all day to whatever President Hillary Clinton did. You can see the appeal to Trump.
It would be social media-savvy. Trump tweets, and it’s reasonable to assume he would have hosts who would also be attack dogs on social media. You can produce a full hour with just one host responding to tweets that support Trump and oppose Clinton. Heck, you could do that all day.
Is this compelling TV?
I was in on the start of a cable channel: New England Cable News (NECN) in 1992. I won’t compare the two much, except to say it’s news and it was a startup. I can tell you this: Content is hard. Compelling news content is very hard. Keeping an audience engaged with news over the course of a day? Nobody has done it with great numbers. The news channels fight for fractions of a ratings point.
However, evening talk shows can prosper. Sean Hannity beat Bill O’Reilly in September – a first since he moved to 10 p.m. He, O’Reilly, Megan Kelley, The Five and other shows regularly account for the bulk of the top 10 performers among the news channels. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show is that channel’s top performer. She won the ratings last Thursday night in the 25-54 demographic.
People don’t really want “straight news.” They say they do, but the ratings show otherwise. They want talk. People want talk shows that reinforce their beliefs.
You Don’t Even Need Cable Anymore.
Donald Trump has a built-in audience. He has social media savvy. He has the staff that can make it happen. He has the financial resources. And he has the ego. (That’s not a political statement. It takes a lot of ego to start a channel. See: Oprah, Ted Turner.) Talk shows are cheap to produce. With the advances in production technology, costs can be quite low.
And there’s this: Trump TV doesn’t even need cable carriage, at least not to get started. It can begin as an “OTT” (Over The Top) network. Those are the channels you watch on a digital device, like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. It can start online. According to Pew Research, 66% of adults get their news online, either at a computer or on a mobile device. If you told me I had to launch a talk news channel, I could do it in eight weeks, and I’d go the OTT route to start. As for cable carriage? Two words: Roger Ailes.
There is the possibility that a Comcast or Time Warner might shy away from a controversial channel. But I think they could be persuaded if the OTT channel and social media effort demonstrated audience potential. Nothing speaks better than big numbers.
Where’s the money?
A big concern would be advertisers. There’s a reason you don’t hear top brands advertise on “Rush Limbaugh.” Tide and Coca Cola don’t like controversy. This would be a challenge for Trump TV. So, a question would be: Would people be willing to pay, say, 99 cents a month for it as an app? The economics of that are challenging. Cable carriage would bring in some money, depending on what Trump and his team could negotiate. And you know how he loves to negotiate.
That’s how Trump TV could launch. Should he wish it, the channel could be available by the inauguration. It would give him the pulpit he wants, and would deliver to his faithful his ongoing message. Whether or not you like that message, it resonates with an audience that will want more, well after the election. If Trump loses, he could actually wind up with a stronger pulpit under the guise of “real news for the real Americans.”
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore. Used with Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.