You wait for a new news network to challenge the existing mainstream media, and then two come along at once. Almost a year after the launch of GB News, the Rupert Murdoch-funded TalkTV has now hit our screens. But despite a high-profile launch based around its biggest name, Piers Morgan, the channel is now struggling to win over viewers. So what’s going wrong at TalkTV, and what does it mean for the channel’s future?
The channel launched on 25 April after a gigantic advertising blitz, and it had a big-name interview to lead the night – Morgan interviewed former President Donald Trump. There was hype, and the interview led other broadcasters and newspapers, particularly as Trump allegedly stormed out. Ratings were positive, attracting 316,800 viewers, and cementing Morgan’s show Uncensored as the channel’s flagship broadcast. But they subsequently slumped, dipping to a 61,700-viewer average a week later on Monday 2 May, an 80% decline. Despite ad campaigns branding Morgan as “the nation’s guilty pleasure” and telling people “you know you want to”, it appears viewers are not convinced.
the TV audience is so low as to be unmeasurable.
Morgan is far from the only figure on the channel in search of viewers however. The audience for The Talk, a nightly discussion show hosted by Sharon Osbourne, is reaching fewer than 10,000 viewers. The News Desk, an hour-long political show hosted by Tom Newton Dunn, made headlines for failing to register a single viewer for half of its 3 May broadcast, indicating the TV audience is so low as to be unmeasurable. This is one of the channel’s primetime broadcasts, so having “zero viewers” is a big problem.
TalkTV does have some positives in its arsenal. When GB News launched, it was a bit of a shambolic affair, with tech faults aplenty, but TalkTV comes across incredibly slickly. It’s attracted a number of big-name interviewees from cultural spheres (such as Caitlyn Jenner and Brian Cox) as well as politicians, including Boris Johnson. The ratings for Uncensored suggest that it is beating BBC News, Sky News and GB News in its timeslot (although not for the other 23 hours of the day). But these are slim consolations in the face of a struggling channel and the associated bad press.
I was struck by how unengaging it was because all the ‘debates’ are between people who essentially agree with each other.
Morgan was the channel’s big-name signing, but he’s also a very controversial figure with a mixed record at news broadcasters. As James Ball writes, Morgan failed to up ratings when he had a show on CNN, and despite his ability to generate headlines at Good Morning Britain, the show was still number two in the battle with BBC Breakfast. GB News was also launched with a central figure in mind – in that case, chairman Andrew Neil – but his reputation for asking tough questions is broadly respected across the political aisles.
GB News was also bolstered by a series of respected established journalists, such as Alistair Stewart and Simon McCoy (plus, later, Eamonn Holmes), and cultural figures like Michelle Dewberry and Neil Oliver. TalkTV has a weaker, more controversial line-up, including Sharon Osbourne and Jeremy Kyle, as headliners. Coupled with that, despite the fiery rhetoric about culture wars and honest conversation, the channel doesn’t actually deliver much of either. When I tried the channel, I was struck by how unengaging it was because all the ‘debates’ are between people who essentially agree with each other. These people work best operating on their own, picking fights with people they disagree with, and the format doesn’t allow that.
I have an ominous feeling about TalkTV that suggests it may be one gamble that doesn’t pay off.
There’s also the issue that I alluded to in my opening – audiences are feeling a bit of news channel fatigue, with TalkTV coming less than a year after GB News, and not really offering much difference. There are a lot of politics and news shows now (without mentioning podcasts and online news too), chasing quite a small audience. Sky News loses £20 million a year, while the BBC News Channel has a tiny audience by the usual standards of the Corporation. You only need look at the almost immediate failure of CNN+, in a much larger market, which is proof that these are risky ventures. Furthermore, TalkTV is launching into a mediascape with GB News, which has already claimed most of the shared audience.
It would be foolish to write off TalkTV just yet – GB News had a bunch of stumbles in its opening few months before it finally settled into a comfortable niche. But the channel is spending more money than its rival, boasting a more controversial line-up, and it’s trying to find an audience that is already being catered for, and it’ll have a hard time overcoming these issues. I’m always rooting for new news outlets to succeed, but I have an ominous feeling about TalkTV that suggests it may be one gamble that doesn’t pay off.