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Why media buyers are giving a cautious welcome to Rupert Murdoch’s GB News rival TalkTV

Piers Morgan and Rupert Murdoch reunite for launch of TalkTV

Media insiders tell The Drum how they will encourage clients to advertise on TalkTV, the Rupert Murdoch-owned alternative to GB News they’re predicting to achieve mainstream acceptance – if it can learn from its rival’s mistakes.

Last week, News UK unveiled plans to launch TalkTV, a news channel to rival the embattled GB News. To the envy of its competitor, the Rupert Murdoch-owned operation has signed ex-CNN and Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan as its primetime anchor.

The ongoing saga of GB News – which in its three short months on air has seen launch advertisers flee en masse under pressure from campaign groups and, more recently, chairman and star presenter Andrew Neil depart acrimoniously – offers a cautionary tale about the difficulty of launching a television news network today. But its high-profile travails have not been enough to deter News UK from entering the same market, and media insiders have told The Drum they believe its rival venture can achieve mainstream acceptance in a way that GB News so far has not.

“As a buyer, I’m more intrigued by TalkTV than I ever was with GB News,” says AIP Media’s Mihir Haria-Shah. If TalkTV launches as a high value proposition, Haria-Shah says he would encourage his clients to advertise on the channel.

TalkTV has been presented as Rupert Murdoch’s last-ditch attempt to extend his influence before the 90-year-old tycoon winds down. The TV channel is primed for a 2022 launch with Morgan as the star attraction.

And provided the network isn’t a replica of GB News, it could be a “very attractive proposition” to advertisers according to Haria-Shah.

Despite that cautionary welcome, he will advise his clients – which include City University, The Wave and Ordnance Survey – to “err on the side of caution” and wait until post-launch before buying slots. “I wouldn’t encourage any of my brands to go and be the first ones to advertise on TalkTV,” he says.

Launching in GB News’ shadow will inevitably invite comparisons between the two networks, which TalkTV will have to shake off. But being second does come with its advantages and News UK has the luxury of being able to observe the fallout from GB News and learn some lessons.

Jake Dubbins, managing director of ethical media buyer Bounty Media, credited News UK’s aptitude for judging the commercial market. The organization understands that brands are now more concerned with being ethical and responsible when it comes to their media choices, he says.

This, coupled with scrutiny from advertisers, press and civil society, will help keep the channel in check, he believes.

Dubbins, who co-founded the Conscious Advertising Network, claims the response to GB News proves there is little appetite from advertisers or audiences for a “Fox style, culture wars, anti-woke TV network”.

“Advertisers can’t get away with piling money into eyeballs. They need to be aware if their money is funding hate speech or spreading misinformation.”

What does TalkTV have that GB News doesn’t?

Firstly, News UK has four mainstream news publications, some 15 radio stations and a host of other titles and services it can promote TalkTV across. GB News, on the other hand, is a standalone service and its main investor Discovery hasn’t carried cross-promotional marketing on its channels.

But getting people to change their TV habits is one of the hardest nuts to crack, making TV channel launches an arduous task, and TalkTV will need to advertise aggressively to get audiences to switch from their regular news provider.

Along with cross-portfolio promotion, TalkTV will bank on the loyalty of an inbuilt audience from established brand TalkRadio, which currently has an average 424,000 listeners a week and 270,000+ YouTube subscribers.

News UK also has its own longstanding and credible commercial team led by Dominic Carter and it is likely that TalkTV’s ad sales will be handled in-house by Carter’s team. GB News notably outsourced its ad sales to Sky Media, which led to advertisers somewhat improbably claiming – under pressure from the likes of Stop Funding Hate and Led By Donkeys – that they had been appearing on the channel without their knowledge.

News is an expensive game to be in and, since its June 2021 launch, GB News has been ridiculed on social media and in the press for its poor production values. According to Enders Analysis, the channel has an annual budget of £25m and spends between £3,000-£4,000 an hour on its content. That’s 43% less than BBC News, which spends £10,000 an hour.

Enders TV analyst Tom Harrington expects TalkTV’s budgets to be in excess of GB News, but nowhere near the heights of BBC News or Sky News.

Unlike GB News, TalkTV has access to News UK’s news gathering teams and an existing studio – The News Building – to offer a higher level of professionalism.

“There isn’t a commercial incentive to get into the TV news game, the reason for investing in it is for influence,” adds Harrington.

So, what does TalkTV need to do to succeed?

Signing the polarizing Piers Morgan is likely to stand TalkTV in good stead.

During Morgan’s five years on air, he grew Good Morning Britain’s share from 15.9% to 24.5%. His axing in March slashed the show’s ratings from an average of 1.4 million to just 600,000, according to Barb data.

To attract advertisers, Harrington says TalkTV should enlist a roster of reputable journalists from across News UK and include one or two more center- or left-leaning journalists to fend off the ‘Fox News for the UK’ characterisations that have dogged GB News.

“They’ve already been bracketed together, so TalkTV needs to distance itself from GB News otherwise the same forces that pressured advertisers to pull out of GB News will jump on this too,” Harrington says.

GB News got off to a promising start, beating Sky News in its first week on air, but by week two its share had dropped by 61%. In GB News’ attempts to recapture eyeballs it has skewed further to the right, making life more uncomfortable for advertisers and prompting its poster presenter Andrew Neil to quit.

Dubbins warns TalkTV to stay right of center. “If it’s inclusive, doesn’t contradict science and spread hate, advertisers will find TalkTV very attractive,” he says.

For advertisers to have confidence in the channel it needs to make its position really clear from the get-go, adds Haria-Shah. “It needs to say what it wants its journalists’ content to be and what audience it is targeting.”

Before GB News’ launch, AIP Media had brands reaching out to check their ads wouldn’t be on the channel. Haria-Shah doesn’t anticipate that happening this time around.

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