By Theo Burman
There was a brief moment this year where the prospect of “Fox News but for Britain” was a very real possibility. There was certainly a bit of concern about how much momentum GB News was gathering, particularly when it was securing big names like Andrew Neil and Durham’s very own Tom Harwood.
As dissatisfaction with the BBC was on the rise, it was very easy to see how a properly managed newcomer could take advantage of the gap in the market. The fear rose to such an extent that a pre-emptive campaign called Stop Funding Hate started targeting the channel’s ads and sponsors months before they even went live. In the end, they needn’t have bothered.
GB News premiered on 13th June with all the bluster and forward planning of a podcast that runs out of content after three episodes. Granted, it received over 300,000 views at its peak, but with blatant technical errors right from the start, it is no wonder so few of those views stuck around. Currently, GB News is reporting dismal viewing figures, with some shows reaching as low as zero viewers after regulars boycotted the channel for broadcasting the despicable act of a presenter taking the knee, which they later branded as “an unacceptable breach of our standards” because of how politically partisan it was.
Setting aside the fact that GB News has a regular segment called “Woke Watch”, and a politics show where sitting Conservative MPs get to spout the party line as regular contributors, the irony of a news channel borne from manufactured culture war talking points being existentially threatened by a boycott is quite funny to watch in real time.
This is a channel that has free speech and anti-cancel culture baked into its core – Andrew Neil’s opening monologue made that very clear – so the fact that the most die-hard viewers want to cancel one of its hosts because of his personal view on taking the knee is quite entertaining, while also revealing just how much the right care about freedom of speech.
The biggest problem GB News faces seems to be its lack of staying power. Beyond the honeymoon period, it doesn’t seem to be resonating with viewers in a way that keeps them coming back. The bulk of the budget went into a massive marketing campaign, hyping it up as a middle finger to the media establishment, but this only led to disappointment once Andrew Neil appeared in a set that looked like it was cobbled together on a lazy afternoon. This, combined with the now infamous tech difficulties, means GB News was quickly dismissed as a serious competitor to the BBC and Sky, and instead settled into a niche alt-media position, similar to PragerU in America.
Ultimately, it is still early days, and the acquisition of Nigel Farage as a new talking head might stave off the looming cloud of irrelevancy, but the first few months of GB News have been a poor showing. And that is a shame because the current news establishment does need a shake-up. Blatant favouritism in coverage, transparency issues, and political connections plague our current broadcasting institutions, and while I’m glad that GB News isn’t joining the behemoths at the top of the ladder, it does make me wonder if the status quo will ever be broken if this extremely well-funded and high-profile attempt has already fallen short.
Image: Simmo Simpson via Creative Commons