The ongoing fun at TalkTV’s expense has pushed Guido to reflect at length on something that he has thought for a while. There’s too much broadcast political content chasing too small an audience and it will end in tears – for shareholders.
Guido had his second watch of Piers Morgan’s show last night, and by the standards of most current affairs shows, it is better-than-average infotainment. He’s doing issues in an accessible way, a bit more tabloid than say Peston, with much more show business than Marr used to put on his Sunday morning show. Will it work in the sense of making a profit? That remains to be seen. The economics of television favour mass market products; politics-focused television products lose money because politics is, in general, a minority interest and there are just not enough people in the UK to make that minority pay. ITV has always regarded politics as a loss leader, so TalkTV and GB News are attempting to do what no British commercial broadcaster has ever done. They are trying to do politics for profit.
The British television audience is one fifth the size of the US television audience, which is why Fox News, MSNBC and CNN can make money. Although CNN+, the channel’s new streaming venture, failed and shut down after just one month. In the UK magazines, think tanks and online political enterprises have all launched video shows and podcasts of varying quality to service political geeks. Content that mostly preaches to the choir, be it their readers or the ideologically allied. These are niche ventures that build brand loyalty and increase subscriptions and donations. The Spectator’s family of podcasts drive magazine subscriptions, and are financed by sponsors wanting to be associated with the glossy magazine and reach their affluent readers. On the left, Novara’s professional high production values and left-wing critiques give comrades Sarkar and Bastani a measurably bigger reach than TalkTV, funded largely by the donations of their left-wing fans. One think-tank boss told Guido that if their policy wonk focused videos reach just 500 people, that is ten times as many as would ever turn up to a policy seminar – if one donor likes what they see and makes a £50,000 donation, that pays for a lot of cheaply produced online videos spreading their message. The financial logic of these ventures is that they spread the brand message and are self-funding.
These online-only narrowcasters don’t pay presenters millions and don’t have the infrastructure of legacy broadcasters, with purpose built studios, satellite fees, network fees and big production staff head-counts. Yes, the production values are lower, yet viewers don’t seem to mind and they have surprisingly big audiences. They will continue to thrive.
The new channels – GB News and TalkTV – have gone for the infrastructure of legacy broadcasters, in the full knowledge that Sky News loses £20 million-a-year and that the BBC News Channel has a tiny audience by BBC standards. Whilst GB News is doing things on a tighter budget, break-even is still some way away. What takes these channels into profitability will be multiplying their audiences ten times. Good luck with that…
An article in this week’s New Statesman (“In the Post-Corbyn World, What Next for Alternative Left Media?“) spurred Guido to do some research into their traffic and how they are performing generally. The short answer is not very well in terms of raw audience size. In comparison to right-of-centre political news and opinion sites they are well behind. Like-for-like The Spectator has double the New Statesman’s readership. To give you an idea how much worse they are faring after the Corbyn-era glory days, consider this, Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic alone had last month more online readers than the New Statesman, Novara Media and Morning Star combined!
Even the upstart newly launched GB News website has more traffic than most left-wing websites and those same websites say GB News is failing. The question that needs answering is why are right-of-centre news and views outlets out-performing – in terms of audience reach – left-of-centre news and views websites? Some of them will argue that we’re looking in the wrong place – the audience is not just on their website. The Canary and Skwawkbox generate engagement on Facebook which outstrips their own native website audience by a multiple. Novara Media’s videos and podcasts are apparently seen by far more viewers and listeners than will read their articles. Owen Jones has his own lucrative YouTube channel. Of course GB News has a television channel so can’t be compared like-for-like, it also has an active online video audience, as do the Spectator and Unherd. They match the left for reach, similarly they tend to preach to the converted. The only place where the left-wing media seems dominant is on social media, Twitter in particular.
Is the left’s supposed dominance of Twitter entirely true? The left are are certainly more active on Twitter, in terms of followers however @GuidoFawkes has more than any of the left-wing politics sites. Academic research suggests that left-wing Twitter is more active and that activity is mainly preaching to the converted and engaging with other left-wingers. The left is more active on Twitter undoubtedly and it gives the micro-blogging site a hostile atmosphere for right-of-centre users, however election after election shows that, in the words of David Cameron, “Britain is not Twitter”. As the SNP’s Cyber-Nats demonstrate all too loudly, ferocious activity is not evidence of numbers.
Is it money? The New Statesman is backed by Mike Danson, a billionaire willing to bankroll the millions in annual losses of the magazine without flinching. Novara Media got funding from a foundation backed by millionaire philanthropists, Tribune Magazine has the backing of an American publisher. The healthy tradition on the left of funding publications from readers’ donations means Novara Media and Owen Jones have six-figure revenues and paid staff, on the right only Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic is funded likewise. The Spectator and Guido Fawkes are profit-making commercially competitive media enterprises that stand on their own two feet, they are also read in droves by left-of-centre readers who don’t share their editorial line for the news, gossip and entertainment, whereas few right-of-centre readers would enjoy reading the dreary ideological output of most left-wing publications. Funding isn’t the problem.
Perhaps the answer is simply that the likes of the Guardian, Daily Mirror, Buzzfeed News, Huffington Post and the BBC provide most left-of-centre news consumers with satisfactory confirmation of their prejudices such that they just don’t have to venture out to the alt-left for content that appeals. Is it just that in the wider media context it is harder for the alt-left to appeal beyond an ideological core readership?
Guido Talks takes you through the day’s events over at Novara HQ, discusses the ethics of big tech censoring views, and maybe the future ways we may avoid such free speech clampdowns in future. Subscribe to the show on YouTube here…
We discuss decentralised social networks. Here’s something we published when Trump was deplatformed: decentralised social networks.
Guido is pleased to report that after 100 minutes offline, Novara Media’s YouTube channel has been restored. It was inexplicably terminated this morning, without prior warning or explanation. So far, YouTube haven’t explained anything. Still, Guido is pleased the channel back online. Even those who vehemently disagree with Novara’s politics immediately lent their support to the team, including the editors of The Spectator and Gript, the political editor of The Sun, and, of course, our own editor. Tech platform censorship is obviously a serious problem, and it’s right to resist it whatever one’s individual politics. Ash and Aaron would do the same for us, right?
UPDATE: For our take on the freedom of speech implications watch our latest Guido Talks.
This morning, Google-owned YouTube deleted the Novara Media channel, supposedly without warning nor explanation. Despite obvious political differences between Guido and Novara, if that is true it is manifestly wrong for them to have been silenced by YouTube. As it was when TalkRadio’s channel was deleted back in January.
As Novara note, they are “among the top 50 most watched news and politics channels in the UK” and are already regulated by IMPRESS. Users trying to access the channel are told by YouTube:
“This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, deceptive practices, and misleading content or other Terms of Service violations.”
Guido hopes it won’t be long before we see a rapid u-turn and the channel’s restoration emerges from YouTube HQ…
UPDATE: Gary, Novara’s video editor, has hopefully had a moment of realisation today:
It's not censorship when a private company decides to remove you from it's platform.— Gary McQuiggin (@ggaaarrryyyy) June 20, 2020
You don't have an inalienable right to a Twitter account.
Whether or not you agree with what we publish, it shouldn't be the whim of giant tech companies to delete us overnight with no explanation. https://t.co/DnBqzQrMLh— Gary McQuiggin (@ggaaarrryyyy) October 26, 2021
UPDATE: For our take on the freedom of speech implications of this takedown, watch our latest Guido Talks.
Guido clearly touched Novara’s nerves today after highlighting their low wage hypocrisy. Novara’s Ash Sarkar took the fight to Twitter, telling Guido to “f**k off into the sea.” Guido couldn’t possibly let Ash have the last word…