Would you pay between $4.95 and $9.95 a month to watch conservative talker Glenn Beck for two hours a day on the Internet?
Beck will launch, with partner Mercury Radio Arts, GBTV, an online video network, on Sept. 12. Here’s Beck himself in a five-minute pitch describing his “global plans” and how he will be “champion of man’s freedom” for the mere cost of a “cup of coffee in today’s world”:
Whether Beck is certifiably insane is not the issue here: Rather, he and his partner need to insure that revenues exceed costs. Now that he’s leaving the ready mega-megaphone of Fox News on June 30, that’s not a certainty.
Beck enjoyed high ratings at Fox that declined as 2011 unfolded. More difficult still for Beck has been the sharp drop in advertisers refusing to sponsor his program.
Presumably (I’m not an expert) production costs of an Internet program are far lower than those of a cable network show. But Beck envisions GBTV as more than his two-hour 5 p.m. show. From The New York Times:
Eventually, Mr. Beck said, his goal is to have an array of scripted and unscripted shows alongside his own daily show, which will simply be titled “Glenn Beck” and will run for two hours on weekday afternoons.
“If you’re a fan of Jon Stewart, you’re going to find something on GBTV that you’re going to enjoy,” Mr. Beck said. “If you’re a fan of ‘24,’ you’re going to find something on GBTV that you’re going to enjoy.”
Who is sufficiently engaged with Glenn Beck to pony up at least $4.95 a month to watch?
Forbes’s Jeff Bercovici writes that the move might not be so risky after all. Mercury is planning to charge $4.95 for access to Beck’s two-hour daily program, or $9.95 for access to a whole array of programming. With those prices, he’ll only need 50,000 subscribers to make more than he did from his Fox News contract – a fraction of the more than one million who tune in regularly on cable.
And Beck has something that few others in the television business do: a pre-existing audience of 80,000 paying digital subscribers, who already subscribe to his Insider Extreme service. They’ll automatically become GBTV subscribers.
I’m not so sure Beck can create a network, even online, that extends beyond his personal programming initiatives — the radio show and his daily program. There just aren’t that many wingnuts of his intellectual stature out there.
Has becoming her own network succeeded for Oprah? Her OWN network has lost its second CEO and struggles in the ratings. Even as her viewership slipped from 9 million in 2005 to 7.3 million in 2007, her numbers were three times as high as Beck’s usual 2.5 million before that number, too, tanked 30 percent in late 2010.
When audience numbers decline in any medium, financial backers demand change — usually in content and presentation. What will happen to Beck’s firebrand persona and the targets of his ideological utterances should GBTV audiences be financially insufficient to those holding purse strings?
A new, kinder, gentler Glenn Beck? Oh, well. We’ll see.