Media Planning and Buying Future of TV

TalkTV launches with few ads – but more are coming...

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

April 26, 2022 | 7 min read

TalkTV, the new channel from Rupert Murdoch's News UK, went live on Monday with star presenter Piers Morgan telling viewers he's here to “cancel cancel culture”. Perhaps heeding the lessons of rival GB News's disastrous launch which resulted in a brand boycott, ad breaks have so far been kept to a minimum, but that won't be the case for long.

In the run up to launch, the bosses behind TalkTV were at pains to distance the news channel from the inevitable comparisons with GB News, the rival station which launched in calamitous fashion last year to a critical and commercial panning. Undisputedly, however, there is one thing they share in common, and that's their advertising sales house.

But this time around, Sky Media has taken a different approach. Whereas GB News launched with a suite of household name advertisers like Ikea, Grolsch and Kopparberg, who later claimed to be oblivious to their presence on the channel and joined a now-infamous brand boycott, TalkTV has been keeping the ad breaks largely on ice for now.

Piers Morgan

TalkTV, featuring Piers Morgan, has launched without ads

There were no ads on its website stream or on the YouTube feed, though a spokesperson said the TV broadcast "saw a number of brands advertise" with three ad breaks an hour and up to four in peak.

Sky Media will eventually more visibly place linear, on-demand advertising and sponsorships for the channel. News UK’s broadcasting boss Scott Taunton has said that there is “genuine interest” from advertisers and potential sponsors and dismissed suggestions the channel will suffer from the same brand aversion that dogged the early days of GB News.

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On launch night, the lack of ads did not go unnoticed by viewers, who were instead treated to repeated reminders of the channel's presenter schedule.

Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Mike Graham and Jeremy Kyle are among those with shows on the channel – and Morgan set the tone with a warning to "ultra-sensitive, permanently offended woke snowflakes" in a typically provocative opening monologue.

He said: “You’re not going to like this show. It’s going to really annoy you, it may even provoke trauma ... I’m going to be constantly celebrating the one thing you can’t abide – free speech ... nobody’s getting cancelled on Piers Morgan Uncensored.”

Similar pledges to lay waste to "woke" broadcasting led many to make up their minds about GB News before it had begun broadcasting in June 2021, and boycotts were encouraged by campaign group Stop Funding Hate before the channel had even taken to air. Since it is customary for Sky Media to sell audiences, rather than channels, it is plausible that big-name advertisers did not realize they were a party to the launch programming, though unthinkable they did not know how this system works. Many marketers claimed they first found out about the GB News media buy from outraged Twitter users decrying the editorial ethos clashed with their corporate ethics.

Can it continue so trouble-free?

When Morgan stormed off the set of Good Morning Britain in March 2021 after doubting the legitimacy of Meghan Markle's mental health issues, the show inspired 54,595 complaints to Ofcom, making it the most complained-about UK TV episode of 2021. Ofcom cleared the show of wrongdoing, but Morgan soon left ITV, with his comments clashing with the channel’s mental health campaigning. It had previously marketed the controversial host as a hairdryer.

Pertinently, The Drum columnist Ian Burrell wrote: “When GB News landed last year, brands including Ikea, Grolsch, Kopparberg and Octopus Energy suspended advertising amid online criticism of the channel’s perceived values. Could Piers, who is writing spiky columns for Murdoch tabloids The Sun and The New York Post, provoke a similar boycott?”

Perhaps heeding the lessons of GB News, which has stabilized since the furore surrounding its launch, TalkTV is biding its time to unleash the controversy courting Morgan on advertisers. But it is wasting no time putting the host front and center in its own advertising campaigns, with even a TikTok account in place. The promotional blitzed secured his show an average of 317,000 viewers between 8pm and 9pm on TalkTV’s launch, beating the BBC, Sky News and GB News. It peaked at 397,000 people watching, and clipped social videos and online streaming via YouTube also gained additional uplift.

Despite Morgan's no-nonsense intro, boycott calls have been largely absent this time around, with Stop Funding Hate instead focused on The Mail on Sunday’s fixation on Angela Rayner’s legs.

Where GB News was an unknown quantity at launch, marketers believe brands are in safer hands within the News UK machine. In the run-up to the launch, AIP Media’s Mihir Haria-Shah told The Drum: “As a buyer, I’m more intrigued by TalkTV than I ever was with GB News.” Provided the network isn’t a replica of GB News, it could be a “very attractive proposition” to advertisers, he said.

Many advertisers will be waiting to see what the channel is like from a content and audience perspective before placing ads. This is generally standard practice across the industry, sometimes taking months to value a property.

Jake Dubbins, managing director of ethical media buyer Bounty Media, however, warns: “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.”

The news game isn’t hugely profitable, according to Enders Analysis’s Tom Harrington. He 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 newsgathering teams and an existing studio – The News Building – to offer a higher level of professionalism. It will need more ad support soon.

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

On that, the jury is still out. The channel received high praise in reviews from sister titles The Sun and The Times within the News UK stable. Meanwhile, The Guardian called it “a Jeremy Clarkson tribute act” and The Telegraph conceded “it was better than GB News.”

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