Glenn Beck TV? The Challenges Beck Would Face If He Tries to Launch His Own Cable Channel

By Alex Weprin 

In today’s NY Times, Brian Stelter reports that Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck is seriously contemplating launching his own cable channel, or become a partial owner of an existing channel.

Mr. Beck has been contemplating a cable channel of his own for more than a year, according to the people who have spoken with him about it, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mr. Beck may not be able to actively pursue such an arrangement until his Fox contract is up.

The two models would be OWN/Oprah Winfrey and Hallmark Channel/Martha Stewart, which Stelter mentions in his report. OWN is a 50/50 joint venture between Winfrey and Discovery Communications, and Hallmark and Stewart entered into a wide-ranging agreement, letting Stewart program large chunks of the network’s lineup.

While such talks are still very premature (his FNC contract is not up until December, after all), there are a number of factors team Beck would have to consider before venturing out into the cable world on their own:

1) Distribution

In the cable TV business, distribution is king. Once you secure wide enough distribution, you can keep reinventing the channel until you find a concept that works. Distribution was one of the main selling points Current TV made to Keith Olbermann to get him to join. Current is in 60 million U.S. households, remarkably wide distribution for such a new network.

Launching a new network would be challenging because cable providers do not have the channel space they once did. Further, big media companies like NBCUniversal and News Corp. force cable companies to bundle in less popular channels with popular ones.

Buying a stake in an existing network would be possible, but expensive, as all the channels with wide distribution would be looking for a lot of money from Beck in exchange for a stake. It also isn’t clear which networks Beck would look to acquire a stake in, and there are none that pop out as obvious choices.

2) Advertising/Brands

There have been plenty of reports noting that Beck has been having an issue retaining high-profile advertisers on his Fox News program. Beck has a loyal stable of advertisers, but none are “blue chip” advertisers that pay top-dollar for ads on other networks and programs.

Any advertising problem would be exacerbated on his own network.

The fact that OWN and Hallmark are having issues in this regard does not bode well for Beck. Winfrey and Stewart are both high profile and brand-friendly. Major advertisers like Procter & Gamble have no qualms buying ads on their shows, because they are typically not controversial, and can incorporate their brands into the shows in creative ways. In fact, P&G inked a $100 million deal with OWN before the network launched– an unprecedented deal.

Beck is controversial, and political, two things that scare away many advertisers who want to sell their goods to everyone-not just Republicans or Democrats. This is why major sporting events and award shows draw such a wide array of advertisers. They appeal to Democrats and Republicans equally, and are unlikely to be rife with political controversy.

3) Relevance

Conan O’Brien and Keith Olbermann were only off the air for a few months. Oprah and Martha Stewart never left the air to begin with.

If Beck wants to stay relevant, then he cannot afford to take a long break from the public eye before launching his own channel. Web shows, radio programs, books and live tours are great, and can contribute to the conversation, but Beck is a TV personality first and foremost. TV still has the ability to reach people in a way that other platforms do not.

If Beck wants to do his own channel, he and his team would need to act quickly in order to minimize the amount of time he is not on the air.

4) The competition

Who–or what– would a Glenn Beck channel be competing with? Right now Beck and Fox News are part of the same team, but if the host were to do his own thing, he would become a direct competitor to the channel–even more-so than MSNBC or CNN. After all, Beck and FNC would be going after the same viewers.

Suffice it to say News Corp., which is a key partner to every cable and satellite provider, would not take competition like this lying down.