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What can TalkTV learn from the launch of GB News?

Talk TV, the upcoming 24-hour news channel from News UK, is set to start broadcasting on 25th April. There’s a great deal the channel can learn from the launch of that other British news parvenu, GB News – now number 4 in the ratings. TalkTV is a Rupert Murdoch channel – and he has pedigree. He’s developed a series of successful 24-hour news channels – from Sky News UK (before its acquisition by Comcast) and Sky News Australia to Fox News to news streaming service Fox Nation. But if his team needed any lessons, they are there to be learned. Because the first few months of GB News offered a playbook of how not to launch a news channel.

GB News was hampered by a lack of cash. Production-values were too low. Some of the sets looked like they were straight out of student television – or, as David Baddiel put it: “if the shopping channel tried covering current affairs”. And there didn’t appear to me enough staff – particularly news directors in the studio. There weren;t enough rehearsals. There’s old military adage from the British Army: proper planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance. GB News could have done with those 7-Ps. The first lesson is that TalkTV can’t cut any corners if they want to first night to go well. You can’t do it on the cheap.

Talk TV looks set in this score; it’s certainly sinking a great deal of cash into the payroll. The flagship £50m deal they announced with Piers Morgan set the bar pretty high – and there are reports that the latest raft of contributors are managing to coax quite a chunk out of Murdoch’s coffers. Isabel Oakeshott was initially offered a salary somewhere in the high five-figures to act as a contributor on the new channel. But she managed to get them to double their offer by telling them GB News would pay her the same amount. And then managed to get them to agree to a figure closer to the quarter-million mark by pulling the exact same line again.

The second part of more complicated and cant be solved by throwing money at the problem. From its inception, GB News had a mission – it was going to air more of diverse views (ie: not those of the ‘metropolitan elite’), avoid focusing on London, and swerve the sort of ‘woke’ politics promoted by established news brands. That was all fairly laudable. But while that mission lent the channel a USP, it also sowed the seeds of its downfall.

Soon after launch, GB News was hit by an exodus of staff and presenters. The genesis of that exodus can be seen in rival interpretations as to what it means to be a news channel whose professed core values are free speech’ – and an opposition to the woke agenda. When Guto Harri ‘took the knee’ as a ptoect against racial injustice and as a show of solidarity with the England football team – he was met by a backlash from viewers. The channel found it impossible to square the anti-poke / free-speech circle and Harri was suspended before resigning. That this debacle arose within a month of the launch implies that there was always going to be a conflict between the channel’s opposition to a particular content whilst maintaining a commitment to free speech.

And that wasn’t even the main event. The most significant departure was that of Andrew Neil in September 2021. Neil had been not only the chairman of GB news but also the channel’s flagship presenter. As GB News’ most well-known and widely respected broadcaster, in the run up to launch, he gave the channel some intellectual heft and lent it a degree of credibility. His resignation (and his replacement with Nigel Farage) removed that. He has since stated he disagreed with the ‘direction’ of the channel’s coverage saying he didn’t want to work for a “British Fox” – a channel he considered to deal in “fake news”, “conspiracy theories” and “untruths”.

To avoid falling to the same trap as GB News, TalkTV will need have a comprehensible, uniting ethos. In order to have a clear purpose, TalkTV should continue to articulate what it is that it will provide that other broadcasters do not and remain consistent to this message. TalkTV must have a shared mission that everyone understands – a clarity of purpose. Management and editorial will all need to be singing from the same… auto-cue.

I wonder if Talk TV knows how it is going to walk the tightrope yet? On the one hand, CEO Scott Taunton said he will consider TalkTV to have failed if it were to be perceived as providing ideologically based content after its first day of broadcasting. Instead, Taunton said the channel will be a “broad church” ideologically and be defined by its “depth of insight”. On the other, this is one of Rupert Murdoch’s media properties – and that implies a certain political inclination.

By James Staunton with additional research from Louis Allison

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