Can GB News capture the UK's post-Brexit mood?

Future News 108

Mark the date, Sunday 13 June is a blockbuster day for British broadcasters. England will kick-off their campaign in the 2020 Euro football championship, while some hours later the UK will witness the launch of a brand new news channel. GB News plans to go live at 8pm BST and has promised to change the “face of news and debate” in the UK. 

The project, founded by media executives Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider, has £60m funding behind it, with a cornerstone investment from Discovery. John McAndrew will be running the show behind the scenes as director of news, while Andrew Neil, the editor, publisher and broadcaster who launched Sky News back in 1989, is serving as both chairman and on-screen talent. 

As the BBC’s former interrogator-in-chief, Neil will be hoping to dent his former employer’s current affairs ratings and make in-roads into ITV’s and Sky’s own audiences. He will be joined on-screen by other TV veterans, including former ITV News anchor Alastair Stewart, ex-BBC presenter Simon McCoy and former Sky News man Colin Brazier. 

There’s new blood too in the shape of Tom Harwood, who recently left Guido Fawkes, and Dan Wootton, the entertainment editor who’s still relatively new to the broadcasting game. 

The main angle is that GB News will be able to provide opinion and personality-led broadcasting within OfCom’s strict rules around impartiality by airing a range of opinions across the political spectrum. Neil, however, has continuously shutdown any comparisons to Fox News, most recently telling The Evening Standard:

“That is an easy, inaccurate shorthand for what we are trying to do. In terms of format we are like Fox but we won’t be like Fox in that they come from a hard right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda. I have worked too long and hard to build up a journalistic reputation to consider going down that route.”

The London-headquartered outlet does want to focus on some of the more positive stories under-covered by its rivals and has already broadcast test content across Freeview, Sky, Virgin and Freesat.

“We won’t flinch from reporting the bad news about Britain but we won’t flinch from reporting some of the good news about Britain,” Neil has said.

GB News, which will be available online, is also launching its own radio station, which will simulcast the audio of the broadcast.

As for the schedule, Neil will lead the evening line-up with the prime time news and interview programme Andrew Neil, while businesswoman and former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry will host Dewbs & Co every weeknight. Wootton will front Tonight Live with Dan Wootton five nights a week, while broadcaster Nana Akua will host Tonight Live with Nana Akua. 

Archaeologist, author and journalist Neil Oliver will host Neil Oliver Live and comedian, writer and cultural commentator Andrew Doyle will host Free Speech Nation. Stewart will anchor Alastair Stewart & Friends, providing conversation and analysis of current affairs. 

McCoy and Alex Phillips will also co-host an afternoon programme. Fronting the channel’s morning show The Great British Breakfast will be Nana Akua, Kirsty Gallacher, Rebecca Hutson, Inaya Folarin Iman, Darren McCaffrey and Rosie Wright.

Separately, the channel has announced a team of regional reporters in a bid to involve more “non-metropolitan voices in the national conversation”. This will all amount to 6,500 hours a year of “original news, opinion and debate” and 120 journalist jobs. The GB News content will be shared across the main social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook

As for what success looks like – whether that’s editorial or commercial – it’s currently unclear what GB News’ investors ultimately want to achieve. Some money will come from advertising, other revenue will be generated by a subscription app targeted at so-called ‘superfans’. But shifting the post-Brexit debate could come at quite a price. 

The pandemic, lockdowns and the UK’s regular Covid-19 TV briefings recemented the BBC into the British psyche. An address from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the nation last May, for instance, became the most popular programme in 2020 with 18.8m people tuning into BBC One.

But perhaps the recent success of the right-leaning The Telegraph demonstrates that there is a substantial pro-British, anti-woke demographic which is happy and ready to consume news media that appeals to its sensibilities. That’s where “Britain’s news channel” wants to step in.