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Is TalkTV signposting the end of broadcast TV or are they just sore losers?


This week TalkTV announced that they are taking their channel off air and moving online. This could be interpreted as a sign of the decline of broadcast TV, that it just doesn’t matter anymore and reading the BBC News article on this last night you could be led to that conclusion. However, I believe this is not the case and that TalkTV simply lost to GB News. Which may be the first time I’ve seen this happen to a Murdoch company.

There had been talk for many years about the launch of a right leaning news channel in the UK that someone would look to replicate the success of Fox News over in the US. The obvious candidate to this were the Murdochs being the owners of Fox. However, a new news channels would have been competition for the existing Sky News. The sale of Sky, along with Sky News, to Comcast in November 2018 changed that.

TalkTV launched on 25th April 2022 as a fully-fledged broadcast linear TV channel across Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media. Though, throughout its inception, News UK (the remaining part of the Murdoch empire in the UK after the sale of Sky and TalkTV’s owner) had blown hot and cold about launching a tradition TV channel. In December 2020 they gained an Ofcom license for a linear TV channel but made comments throughout 2021 downplaying their plans.

The challenger was GB News, there plans became clear in January 2020 when they gained an Ofcom license. Launching on 13th June 2021 having formally announced their launch in September 2020. Unlike News UK, GB News had always been clear they were launching a linear TV channel to as large an audience as they could reach. Launching across Freeview, Freesat, Sky, YouView and Virgin Media.

Looking at the dates News UK appeared to have been constantly reacting to GB News’s plans.

If you have asked me back in in 2022 who was going to win, I would have said News UK with TalkTV. The main reason would be the Murdoch effect, but also the professionalism and the sheer investment in TalkTV. The onscreen and offscreen activities to launch GB News showed it had been thrown together, TalkTV felt like it had been built to last.

I can’t rate the content or the editorial of the two channels, but I believe a large part of GB News’s success was simply being first to market. They entered the market a full 10 months before TalkTV. They entered an open market which had a demand and were able to establish their audience. Also by entering first they got a better channel number. Most people surfing for news will hit GB News before they hit TalkTV. Research has shown that the lower your channel number is, the easier it is for viewers to find you.

Platform             GB News         TalkTV

Freeview             236                 237

Sky                       512                 522

Virgin Media       604                 606

Freesat                216                 217

The chart below shows the monthly audience share for the news channels as reported by BARB. It can be seen that TalkTV has never really made a dent in GB News audience, in fact launch of TalkTV seems to have helped GB News.


I’ve chosen to chart audience share, as this is the best measure to compare performance. I’ve also included BBC and Sky News to show what was going on in the wider news market. There are other metrics such as reach. While TalkTV’s audience share is less than a quarter of GB News, their reach has at times been 80% of that of GB News, reaching 2.5 million viewers in a month. This isn’t reflected in the audience share as TalkTV viewers just don’t watch it as long. People are drawn to it but don’t stick around.

To give this a financial perspective, if my maths is right, I would estimate that TalkTVs yearly revenue from advertising is at most £4 million a year, while GB News could be five times that amount.  For the year the ending May 2023 GB News actually only reported revenues of £6.7m, a quarter of my estimate. So, if TalkTV are in the same position their revenues might only be £1 million, which won’t even cover the fees they need to pay to broadcast the channel, which are not insignificant.

For the fuller picture, GB News had pre-tax losses of £42.4m for the year to the end of May 2023, up from £30.7m a year earlier. It owed its parent company All Perspectives Ltd £83.3m. To become cash flow positive, GB News need to maximize their ad revenues and double their audience share. We have a good while before we will see the results to the end of May 2024, but we should have seen their audience share increase by over 40% with a similar impact on their revenues.

Both channels have courted controversy, it would be interesting to see if that controversy is driven by audiences or drives audiences, both in terms of reach and audience share. A subject of another blog post.

The point of this article was to challenge TalkTV’s position that broadcast TV is no longer relevant. TalkTV are talking about how news is moving online, the quote from Scott Taunton, Talk TV's president of broadcasting, in a briefing to staff, is "Two years ago, we would not have been brave enough to launch a channel without a linear presence. But audiences of all ages have moved fast and smartphones are now the primary device where news is consumed. We need to adapt to this as a priority."

An indicator of TalkTV’s move was when in February, they moved its star presenter, Piers Morgan, to being solely online as Piers Morgan Uncensored on YouTube. This could also be due to it also been driven by Ofcom regulations which won’t apply to what Pier’s does on YouTube. Each of his, roughly 30 minute shows get around 300K views on YouTube, though sometimes they get millions. When on the linear channel his ratings where in the 10s of thousands. But for how many minutes is the YouTube channel actually being viewed?

Broadcast linear TV is clearly in a slow decline and so is broadcast delivery. I expect with the cash haemorrhaging from TalkTV, the cost of running a channel 24/7 is far more of an issue than the millions they were paying to broadcast the channel.  If they had a credible option to take their linear channel IP only on Freely or Sky, I don’t think they would be taking it.


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