Murdoch started a TV channel because he “wanted something to watch”

Like many people in the UK and around the world, Rupert Murdoch watched more television than usual. Like some viewers, he was unhappy with the channels offered. Unlike almost everyone, however, the media mogul could do more than just complain.

From the Oxfordshire area where the nonagenarian spent much of the pandemic with his former model wife Jerry Hall, Murdoch decided to start his own station, people familiar with his thinking have said.

News Corp’s executive chairman and Fox Corporation co-chairman had been fondling the idea of ​​launching a UK news channel for at least two years, but this summer – especially after seeing the troubled GB News launch – he became more pushy. let the project go ahead.

This week, three days after Murdoch’s former sidekick Andrew Neil resigned as chairman and presenter of GB News, and in the midst of a biannual gathering of the UK’s television industry elite in Cambridge, News UK went public his plan.

The station, talkTV, will be widely available on regular television platforms such as Freeview, Virgin Media and Sky, as well as online, from early next year.

Murdoch once courted one of the biggest names in broadcasting. Piers Morgan, who left ITV’s Good Morning Britain after an argument over remarks he made about Meghan Markle, joins the station in a “global deal” in which he will appear on other platforms as well. Corp and Fox.

The question of whether Murdoch can make the new station successful – financially or otherwise – quickly replaced the BBC’s funding model and the privatization of Channel 4 at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge.

“The jury is out on whether the UK wants an opinion-driven news service and will watch it in sufficient numbers to be able to return,” said Sean McGuire, managing director of media advice Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates . , who was responsible for strategy at BBC News when the company launched News 24 in the 1990s.

Douglas McCabe, managing director of Media Researchers Enders Analysis, said, “This is not a business you go into to make money. Making money with newspapers is hard enough. Making money from TV news is even more difficult.

A return to British television has been on Murdoch’s mind for some time, however. He’s been out of the business since the sale three years ago of Sky, which he founded in 1989, to US media group Comcast. Murdoch had failed years earlier in his attempt to take full control of the satellite broadcaster amid outrage over the tabloid phone hacking scandal, and a second attempt bogged down in regulatory difficulties.

He was initially interested in funding GB News, but eventually believed that a business within his own business would be the best strategy. David Rhodes, an American media executive, was hired in 2019 to work on plans for a continuous news channel.

Some senior Murdoch executives were not convinced. Rebekah Brooks, director of the UK subsidiary, was skeptical of the large investment required, especially given the pressures in the television advertising market. Ofcom’s rules of impartiality were a further complication.

A range of options were worked out including a possible purchase or partnership with an existing terrestrial channel, but the project languished and Brooks announced Rhodes’ departure in April. Instead, the company worked on simpler plans for online streaming.

Murdoch, however, has remained passionate about a TV channel and has been pleading several times this summer. Around the same time, he was negotiating with Morgan, a former Murdoch tabloid editor who had kept in touch with his former boss. The couple had dined with actor Joan Collins in Los Angeles shortly before the pandemic.

News Corp had spoken to Morgan long before he left ITV, but could not agree on the terms. Some within the company were reluctant to bring him back.

A confluence of interests, including Murdoch’s desire for a chain, tipped the scales. Morgan will host a show on talkTV as part of a deal with Murdoch, under which HarperCollins will release their next book.

While Murdoch does fulfill his wish to return to the small screen, talkTV will be quite different from the more ambitious vision Brooks originally had reservations about. While the station will broadcast news bulletins hourly, it will not be a continuous news service, requiring considerable investment: the BBC spends almost £ 60million a year on its news channel.

Details of the new station have yet to be finalized, but it is expected to build on a push that News UK’s talkRADIO station turned into video. The station has 275,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Now marked talkRADIO TV, the offer has evolved beyond studio webcams. Guests appear on a shared screen with the host, using video conferencing.

News UK said that in addition to news and talk, talkTV will feature sports, entertainment and lifestyle programming. One of the driving forces behind the project is executive producer Winnie Dunbar Nelson, who has worked with Morgan on CNN and Good Morning Britain.

Other Murdoch media experimented with different formats: The Sun broadcast online chats on the Love Island dating show, Times Radio conducted internal tests on the visual fallout of its podcasts, and talkSPORT examined celebrity video profiles. Sport.

For talent, the channel will draw on other parts of the Murdoch Empire, including talkRADIO, whose presenters include Julia Hartley-Brewer and Jeremy Kyle.

If this is to be editorially successful, said Lis Howell, professor emeritus of journalism at the City University of London and former editor of Sky News, talkTV should be careful not to depend too much on Morgan.

“Creating a channel around a single presenter is dangerous. The problem is, however good this presenter is, he is not available 24/7. There has to be a strong enough supporting cast. “

Murdoch will also be keen to avoid the poor production quality that has marred the launch of GB News.

Despite Neil’s departure, supporters say GB News has a “bright future”. In a meeting shortly after News UK unveiled its plans for talkTV, GB News investor Sir Paul Marshall told channel staff that its backers were ready to deploy more funds in the station, which could be used for marketing and other hiring.

The project raised £ 60million last year from Sir Paul alongside US media group Discovery and Legatum Capital, founded by New Zealand billionaire Christopher Chandler.

News UK has not disclosed the extent of its investment in talkTV, although Brooks has promised “high-quality, low-cost programming”.

Despite all the dissection of the business and political calculus behind the business, however, for Murdoch, it seems the rationale was simpler. “He loves to do this stuff,” Howell said.

And, as one associate put it, the billionaire “just wanted something to watch.”

Additional reporting by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

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