Rumours were floating around for a long time that a potential rival to the big broadcast networks was in development. Now we know that, starting next year and under the chairmanship of Andrew Neil, we will have GB News, a right-leaning, rolling news channel. Neil is leaving the BBC after 25 years — perhaps not in the happiest of circumstances. He will join GB News in what could be one of the biggest shake-ups in British broadcasting history.
Neil has said that GB News will be aimed at people who feel put off by the existing news channels. The channel seems to be preparing for a role on the front line of the ongoing culture war debates.
The funding is coming primarily from Discovery Inc, which has put up around a quarter of the $55 million required to start the channel. The rest is likely to come from advertising, meaning the channel will be free to air on Freeview, Virgin Media and Sky.
The rationale for GB News is clear: BBC, ITV and Sky are similar and offer little intellectual diversity. The marketplace of ideas should always be two-sided. As Neil explained, “We’ve seen a huge gap in the market for a new form of television news… We will champion robust, balanced debate and a range of perspectives on the issues that affect everyone in the UK, not just those living in the London area.”
While in talks with the BBC during the summer Neil was offered a generous salary to stay, but he told GMB that the corporation “could not quite repair the damage done,” especially after his show “The Week in Politics” was cancelled. As such, Neil’s last job with the BBC will be reporting on the upcoming US elections.
The arrival of GB News comes at a time of growing disillusionment with traditional forms of broadcast news. A YouGov poll from December found less than half of Britons (44 per cent) trusted what BBC journalists told them. This may explain the gradual erosion of its audience figures. During Lord Hall’s seven year tenure, viewership drastically declined. In 2012, 25 million people regularly watched news on its channels, by 2019, this figure had dropped to roughly 18 million.
GB News has the potential to exploit this apparent change in viewer preferences. Neil is quick to point out that far from being just a right-wing news channel, GB News will hold long-form debates, with voices from both the left and right. It is a format absent from traditional mainstream news media.
The truth is, from a financial standpoint, opinion-driven news content can be very lucrative. It is certainly a ratings winner in the US. For a long time, British television executives have been envious of the high ratings and success enjoyed by opinion-led shows in the US such as “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, the show on Fox News which has one of the highest ratings in the United States.
But unlike its US counterparts, GB News will have to abide by strict broadcasting rules on impartiality, which are set by Ofcom. But with the recent news that Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, may be lined up for the role as head of Ofcom, that could be set to change. A new kind of news channel could be on its way.